Assembly Bill 392, homelessness, and Kern County's musically-talented District Attorney were among the diverse topics when Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood talked to the Rotary Club of China Lake on May 15.
Youngblood also strongly disputed recent criticisms calling him “racist” because he posed for a picture with President Donald Trump.
“I was in the White House eight times with President Obama and Vice President Biden on the same topics, border issues and no one said a word,” Youngblood said. “If I am a racist because I believe we should have border security and I stand up with this president who believes that we should have border security, OK. Call me what you like,” he said, clearly speaking rhetorically.
This was just one of several topics Youngblood spoke passionately about.
“There's a lot of things going on in our county, in our state, in our world. Most of them not good,” he said.
He talked about how the Kern County's Sheriff's Office is losing people in the recruitment process, characterizing it as a crisis.
Youngblood said that Kern County in the last five years has lost 150 deputy sheriffs to other agencies by lateral transfer and has received none.
He stated that “there is a huge recruitment crisis in the state of California for police officers.” He attributed this in part to California AB 392, a proposed bill which would restrict how police in California are allowed to use deadly force on suspects. The wording of the bill is still being hammered out, but in essence, if passed it would change the threshold for requiring officers to use deadly force.
Youngblood said that changing the requirement for use of deadly force to “necessary” is “a very dangerous and slippery slope to put our police officers on.”
Youngblood talked about other difficulties with finding appropriate applicants. He said asking about marijuana use in the past year reduced a pool of 1,000 applicants to 200. After a background check and physical agility testing the pool was reduced to 25. He said five are about to graduate from the academy shortly.
Youngblood also talked about squatters and the homeless. He said in his opinion there is a reason there are so many homeless people in Kern County. He attributed a large part of the problem to recent laws that have decreased the penalties for certain drug-related crimes.
“In Kern County, for the last 35 years there has not been one empty jail bed,” he said. “Today, after Prop 47 and 57 decriminalized everything: possession of heroin and possession of methamphetamine are misdemeanors, citable offenses . . . today there are 600 empty jail beds in Kern County,” he said. “And I can show you where those 600 people are.”
He said the people in question have, in his opinion, two issues: mental health issues and drug issues.
Youngblood said that in the past, periods of incarceration could be used to help people get help.
“I've got news for you. These people are not going to get help when they are out on the streets,” he said. “We had a captive audience. We have lost that. It's a shame to watch what the state is doing.”
On a lighter note, Youngblood also talked about how he was asked to put his voice on the line to raise funds for cancer patients at last year's Media Music Jam. He said last year he agreed to help with a cancer fundraiser but somehow wound up performing as a singer at the event.
“There was a little bit of a miscommunication. They thought I was agreeing to sing. I thought I was agreeing just to help,” he said as people laughed.
Apparently, his performance was such a hit he was asked back this year.
This year, he said, he agreed to perform again on the condition that new District Attorney Cindy Zimmer play the fiddle to accompany him on the Hank Williams song “Your Cheating Heart” and sing harmony for the Ricky Nelson song “Mary Lou.”
“Both of which she agreed to,” Youngblood said. He reported the most recent rehearsal had gone very well.
“She is really talented,” he said of Zimmer.
The Media Music Jam will take place at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace on June 22 this year. All funds raised will go to the Kern County Cancer fund to help local cancer patients with financial needs.
See the Media Music Jam Facebook page or www.buckowens.com/tickets/ for more information.