BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — COVID-19 was the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers in the United States in both 2020 and 2021. Although we have lost officers in Kern County to the virus, right now, the main issue agencies are dealing with is a staffing shortage.
The Sheriff's Department explained that the current situation is not only worrisome because of COVID health concerns but now you have officers taking on more shifts, response times are delayed, all while implementing new policies to address the current concerns.
How many law enforcement officers have had COVID related deaths?
Preliminary data shows that some 301 officer fatalities have been identified as caused by COVID in 2021, and this number appears to increase almost daily. COVID-19 related fatalities continue to be the single highest cause of law enforcement deaths occurring in 2021.
“To hold somebody over, because someone else calls in sick is very difficult with 12 hours shifts. The problem of deputies being extremely tired because they are having to work so many hours, that takes a toll,” said Donny Youngblood, Sheriff at Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
Youngblood detailed that they have about 16 reported COVID cases in their Operations Bureau and around 50 reported cases among detention deputies. Not to mention the fact that deputies must investigate homicides, which the Sheriff said happen almost every two and a half days in the county.
“When that happens, it takes a large number of the staff that is working to do that, and then response time is really delayed for non-emergency calls to hours sometimes.”
He added that the staff is currently able to manage now but it does not help that the county has so many homicides.
“You know we have a homicide in our county every two and a half days. We are working a homicide right now in the eastern part of the county that will take most of the deputies to secure the scene.”
On top of the number of deputies needed for these cases, they are also having to deal with the delay in getting test results for those who are currently out. Since they have to get a negative test to come back to work, it is taking sometimes up to 10 days or longer for them to return.
The Department is now asking all non-emergency calls to be reported through an online portal they have implemented while this surge lasts.
The portal will allow you to report anything from a burglary to lost property.
Unlike other agencies, KCSO also operators the Coroner’s Office for the entire county. Now they have between 10 to 15 coroner investigators and at one point only had three working at a time because of COVID.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood said they almost had to ask for aid because so many staff members were out sick.
“When they can’t work, quite frankly the bodies stack up and our response time to outline areas to retrieve someone who passes, it can be very problematic and time consuming.”
They are also suspending inmate visitation starting Saturday at the Central Receiving Facility and Ledro facilities, but attorney and professional visitations will continue.
Meanwhile, the City of Arvin’s Police Department said their biggest hit was last year when one third of the force was sick. This time around they have only had a couple cases and says the biggest delay comes from COVID implemented procedures.
“If the prisoner shows up in jail and is COVID positive, there is an issue there, or if he says I don’t feel great and he’s a medical risk. Now, you have to take him to the medical center to get cleared medically before you bring him back. So, your four officers on duty all of a sudden become two,” said Jon Paul Javellana, Lieutenant and Assistant Chief of Police for City of Arvin.
Javellana added that the timing for this latest surge was not helpful, especially for a 20 staff department.
“When the weather changes and the holidays, because that is the biggest strain, because the calls for service go up and the amount of personnel who are trying to take vacation go up, and the amount of officials that get sick due to weather go up, so we were the COVID patrol over the Christmas and New Year holiday.”
In Shafter, they also had breakouts early on and currently only have one person out for COVID out of their 28 person staff.
“I suppose it could be that the employees have been following our mask mandates. I know many of us have gotten it, I know personally I have gotten it,” said Captain Jeff Bell, City of Shafter Police Department.
Both Captain Bell and Lieutenant Javellana said they are not implementing any new online system or change in their non-emergency response process, something again both KCSO and Delano Police have already put in place.
Delano’s non-emergency line: (661) 721-3377