Merced Sheriff Sounds the Alarm Over Deputy Vacancies

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke says mounting vacancies within his department are putting residents at risk. The shortage of deputies has gotten so bad that Warnke has personally been forced to respond to calls. He recently showed up to a domestic violence incident where the husband had a gun.

“I'm fighting for the sheriff's office’s life right now,” the sheriff said in a February video. “That means I'm fighting for your public safety. So folks, it's bad."

Twenty out of 100 patrol deputy positions are vacant. According to the Los Angeles Times, only four deputies are patrolling the 2,000-square-mile county during daytime hours. Another 23 out of 108 custodial deputy positions are vacant. In the investigative unit, which typically has 18 people, there are just eight. Four out of 13 dispatch positions are also unfilled.

Warnke is requesting more money from the county’s board of supervisors and more discretion in determining how to spend funds.

Merced’s top deputies earn $90,000. They can earn as much as $102,000 in some of the neighboring jurisdictions. County spokesman Mike North said the Merced County Deputy Sheriff's Assn. rejected an offer for an 8% raise.

In a statement, North added that Merced is “aiming to close the compensation gap between the sheriff’s office and others in the Central Valley, and our staff has already returned to the bargaining table with the remaining public safety labor groups.”