Guerneville generates more criminal complaints involving homelessness than any other part of the county, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick said at a presentation last week on lower Russian River security issues.
“It’s not a secret to anyone there’s a disparate influence” of homelessness weighing on Guerneville’s crime statistics, Essick told the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) at the MAC’s bimonthly meeting.
Sheriff’s statistics show there were more than 25,000 calls for service in the west county lower Russian River over the past three years, and Guerneville-area homeless-related issues generated 12% of them, said Essick.
A lot of the calls are complaints about sleeping on the street, public urinating and drinking in public.
Approximately 37% of the reports were “officer initiated,” meaning deputies have encountered the problem while on duty, said Essick.
“What you can see” from the record, said Essick, is that “Guerneville has the most homeless-related incidents in the county.”
That was the bad news delivered to the nine-member MAC and an audience of about 80 people at the Guerneville Veterans Building last Thursday. Better news is that despite a looming county budget deficit the county won’t reduce the number of deputies assigned to the Guerneville sheriff’s substation this fiscal year.
“There was a $2.2 million cut that we were looking at” in the Sheriff’s Office when budget talks began this year, said Essick. Under that scenario the substation was slated to lose two sergeants but will now be able to continue with a full complement of sergeants and 12 substation deputies plus three coastal deputies, said Essick.
The county has also budgeted $300,000 earmarked for seasonal private security to help cover downtown Guerneville, said Essick.
As summer arrives, “We have stepped up patrols in downtown Guerneville,” with a priority of resolving “quality of life issues” associated with homelessness, said Essick. “Arresting everybody is not necessarily the solution.”
Citizen vigilance remains a critical component of the sheriff’s ability to provide service to the west county.
“If you see something we want you to call,” said Essick.
The best number to use is the sheriff’s dispatcher, 707-565-2121. Regardless of the immediate response, the call for service creates a record that helps deputies identify and track problem areas, said Essick.
The sheriff has also been meeting with Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch regarding a prosecution strategy for repeat offenders, said Essick.
“I’m encouraged,” said Essick. “I think she [Ravitch] is doing a good job.”