I just sat through the Santa Barbara County budget hearings, or, should I say, the pretense of a budget hearing.
As is their custom, the county gave me a grand total of 36 seconds per department for my comments! Relatedly, the board spent about as much time on the budget as they did later the same week for a marathon hearing on racism as it relates to law enforcement.
What that means is that our county supervisors rubber stamped a budget worth $1.19 billion, the details of which belie claims that our county is spending too much money incarcerating rather than treating and supporting residents.
Case in point. The county’s Public Defender’s Office, led by Tracy Macuga, had this to say while speaking at a recent protest rally, “The criminal justice system needs to be completely reformed. Funding decisions need to be made, meaning that money instead of building larger institutions that warehouse our community members, should go to mental health, to treatment and drug addiction programs.”
Really? Has PD Macuga ever bothered to compare the budget for public safety vs public health and welfare? Taxpayers spend orders of magnitude more money on social and health welfare programs than they do on public safety.
For example, the following dollar amounts do not include the actual welfare and social security payments that go directly to beneficiaries, because, unfortunately, the county no longer reports these expenditures.
Nonetheless, the county spends $422 million on Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health, Social Services, Public Health and Child Support Services. Compare that to $165 million for patrol and jail services provided by the Sheriff’s department! All told, the public safety division (sans the fire department), comprised of the public defender, district attorney, probation, and the sheriff, cost $285 million.
Moreover, via Props 57 and 47, California has already significantly reduced prison populations, downgraded crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and diverted criminals to alternative treatment. What do we have to show for it?
Nothing much apparently. During the previously mentioned marathon hearing having to do with institutional racism, with a view towards law enforcement, Aaron Jones, the director of the Educational Opportunity Program at University of California, Santa Barbara, was one of the “moderators”
He asserted that “Until we begin to acknowledge that law enforcement is based out of slave patrols, that there was no such thing as law enforcement in this country save for the organization of predominantly white men who had the legal authority to hunt and kill black bodies as capital, until we can see the connection to that, we will continue to be here.”
Supervisor Greg Hart, among others, wants to buy into the narrative that a disproportionate number of people of color make up our jail population. I would agree that there is some truth to that. However, he and his fellow board members control the budget having to do with, for instance, PD Macuga’s department. That is, too many accused people of color are forced to rely on their court appointed attorney in PD Macuga’s department for representation. Unfortunately, the best lawyers in the world are not typically drawn to public service and, furthermore, public defender caseloads are routinely inordinately burdened.
What is missing from these conversations? Unfortunate as it is, the overwhelming majority of gang members in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and Lompoc are people of color. Santa Maria has upwards of 1,500 gang members; Lompoc and Santa Barbara have several hundred more. Moreover, these gangs are typically associates, or franchisees if you will, of national and international gangs, all organized for criminal activity.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and the host of The Andy Caldwell Show weekdays from 3-5 p.m. on News-Press Radio AM 1290.