Merced County Sheriff calls for more deputies, better pay as gang violence increases

EMBED </>More Videos

After two gang-related shootings in a matter of hours, the Merced County Sheriff says his department needs more deputies -- now. (KFSN)

After two gang-related shootings in a matter of hours, the Merced County Sheriff says his department needs more deputies -- now.

"We're at a critical point in public safety," Sheriff Vern Warnke said.

Sheriff Warnke understands the gravity of the recent increase in gang violence in Merced County, and says he's doing everything he can to keep law-abiding citizens safe. But Warnke says that's hard to do when he's down 21 deputies, has a weak gang unit, and is now left with just one homicide detective. This year he says two new deputies quit after receiving their second paycheck.

"We are out of bodies," said Warnke. "The experience level that we got here, we've got homicide detectives that are leaving. A month ago, I had 100 years of experience walk out the door."

The sheriff's department has investigated five homicides in the last month. On Friday, there were two gang-related homicides in Winton.

"We have to take care of life's problems and until we get the deputies that have the training and the life experience, this is what we're going to be dealing with," Warnke said.

The simple solution, according to Warnke, is to pay deputies better wages. And he says the county supervisors are the ones who can speed up that process to increase pay.

"It's a complicated question, and it's not an easy answer," Merced County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said over the phone on Monday.

Kelsey represents the Winton area, and says the community needs a substation and a dedicated deputy. But she says Merced County simply can't compete with the Bay Area or Southern California when it comes to wages.

"Often times they find a better job in another community or they move to a much larger city where they do indeed get paid more," Kelsey said. "So people are retiring, there are people that are having difficulty coming up with revenue to pay for their own advanced training, and those that already have some school debt are having difficulty paying back their debt."

Sheriff Warnke says they should at least be able to compete with other agencies in the Valley.

That way, they can recruit the most experienced deputies, and offer a better living for those he says put their life on the line every day they put their uniform on.



Related Topics:
crimetrackersheriffmerced countyWintonAtwaterMerced
(Copyright ©2018 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.)