In 2014, Humboldt County voters passed Measure Z, a half-cent sales tax meant to fund public safety. In the years since, that revenue has been spent on a number of different countywide departments and agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, local fire departments, the Eureka Police Department, mental health services and more.

But the Humboldt Deputy Sheriff’s Organization — the bargaining unit representing frontline Sheriff’s Office employees — is now charging that this money has been ill spent, and cites current staffing levels inside its own department as evidence. The deputies are calling for change, and they go so far as to threaten political action — without relief, they say, they are prepared to “go back to the voters to consider changing or eliminating Measure Z altogether and starting over.”

Open letter from the Humboldt Deputy Sheriff’s Organization to the county’s Citizen Advisory Committee on Measure Z:

Members of the Measure Z Committee,

As President of the Humboldt Deputy Sheriff’s Organization (HDSO), I wrote to you on June 16th (link) to alert you that your committee and the Board of Supervisors has absolutely wasted $70 million on a wrong-headed and counterproductive “hire rookies and hope for the best” strategy that is actually making public safety worse. Over two months has gone by with no change in strategy, and public safety coverage continues to erode for Humboldt County residents.

Today, our dedicated deputies are protecting our homes and property with more than 1 out of 3 patrol positions vacant - this is dangerous to residents and to our staff who already work one of the most rugged, rural, and dangerous law enforcement jobs in the country. When neighboring Mendocino County pays their law enforcement personnel 40% more to cover a smaller community with less crime, it is no wonder that we are losing our best deputies and cannot fill vacant positions. Even the rookies you are paying to train are either failing the basic requirements or using Humboldt County tax dollars for “free training” and moving on to a different community.

The Measure Z Committee cannot continue spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on their same failed strategy and expect different results. Seven years ago, HDSO members asked Humboldt County taxpayers to dig a little deeper to provide the $15 million a year to fund public safety services, and the public did their part. But your Measure Z Committee and the Board of Supervisors have failed to do your part. The result is our members give more, the public gives more, and we all lose. This cannot continue.

Again, we would like to meet with your committee as soon as possible to discuss changing strategies. If nothing changes, we will be forced to go back to the voters to consider changing or eliminating Measure Z altogether and starting over.

Today, more than 25 positions for the sheriff’s department are vacant, leaving large swaths of Humboldt County and entire communities like McKinleyville, Garberville, Blue Lake, Redway, Willow Creek and many others without recommended or even basic law enforcement protections. Even some of our most dedicated HDSO members are actively applying for better paying jobs in other communities where their families can be protected with adequate public safety patrols.

It’s not too late for you to help stop this crisis. Please let me know when you can meet as soon as possible to stop throwing hard earned public tax dollars down the toilet and start investing in what works.

Thank you,

Jamie Barney