Rural Towns Grapple With Public Safety Shortage in Tehama

Last year, the Tehama County Sheriff’s department suspended daytime patrols, citing “catastrophic staffing shortages.” In communities like Rancho Tehama Reserve, if you call 911, it’s possible no one will come. 

“People out here are ready to take it into their own hands,” resident Cheyenne Thornton told the Guardian. “They’re tired of not getting any help. It’s kind of a ticking timebomb out here.”  

Residents say the problem predates the staffing issues, which were driven by abysmal pay rates. There is a sense that rural towns like Rancho Tehama are on their own and always have been.

In 2017, Rancho Tehama was the site of a mass shooting. There were serious questions about the sheriff’s department’s actions leading up to the massacre, as it was revealed deputies had been called to the shooter’s house 21 times. Some of the victims sued the county. 

The staffing shortages only exacerbated the problem. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, the number of patrol officers in Thelma dropped by over 20% between 2008 and 2021.

That situation is finally looking up. The county recently approved pay increases for the sheriff’s office and, last month, it was able to bring back daytime patrols. Whether response times will significantly improve remains to be seen.