Withrow, a 26-year veteran of the department, is running for sheriff in the June 3 election against two-term Sheriff Steve Moore. He has been in charge of the Alternative Work and Community Corp programs for people serving jail sentences for the past four years.
In his time at the sheriff’s department, Withrow said he has worked in nearly every department and division, starting in the old jail, before the present jail was built in 1992. He spent 12 years as a K9 officer and said he was the first K9 officer of the sheriff’s SWAT team. He was also assigned to a Drug Enforcement Agency drug task force and the sheriff’s street crimes unit and worked in Lathrop, including as an administrative sergeant.
Recently, Withrow has noticed developments that motivated him to challenge Moore.
“I looked around our department and saw a department changing in ways I just couldn’t live with — a department I put my life on the line for. I’ve been in three different shootings since I’ve been in the department,” Withrow said. “I was going from a very proactive, aggressive, working with the community-type department to a reactive department where we’re really good at taking a report after somebody’s been victimized, but not very good at keeping them from getting victimized.”
Withrow said he wants to actively confront record-high homicide numbers in Stockton and an increasing number of agriculture-related crimes.
“I’m not going to be one to sit in the office attending a ton of parties,” Withrow said. “I’m going to be out working side by side, whether in the jail or out on the street, with the men and women that work for me.”
Jail crowding solutions
One of the worst problems, Withrow said, is the number of inmates who are let out of San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp because it is full.
“Our jail has become a logjam for the entire criminal justice system,” he said. “No matter how many guys Tracy, Lodi, Manteca or Stockton police go out and arrest — and these officers are putting their lives on the line — if they take them to our jail and we kick them out the next day because of overcrowding, they are just spinning their wheels and each city is wasting money arresting bad guys.”
The San Joaquin County Jail has a rated bed capacity of 1,411. On May 7, when Withrow talked with the Tracy Press editorial board, the jail had 1,435 inmates. The county superior court set the jail’s capacity and enforces a 24-hour limit on how long any given inmate can be required to sleep on the floor because of a shortage of beds, called the court cap by people in the sheriff’s office.
Withrow said the crowding situation had remained uncorrected in the seven and a half years of Moore’s tenure.
“Right now, we’re releasing 2,500 inmates a year early, we’re under court cap every day, a few hundred inmates are getting kicked out the door. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “We have got to protect our citizens, and it all starts with this jail.”
Withrow’s solution is to add a system of modular jail buildings.
The buildings, constructed by inmates at Folsom State Prison, cost about $110 a square foot, according to Withrow. He said that for $1 million, he could have a facility that would house one unit of 64 inmates, staffed by four correctional officers for 24/7 supervision.
The modular buildings could be placed on the honor farm property — 999 W. Matthews Road in French Camp — and would take 60 days to construct, Withrow said. Eventually, four units could provide about 250 more beds.
Withrow said the project could be paid for with part of the $17 million county supervisors set aside as matching funds when the sheriff secured an $80 million grant to build a new jail. Supervisors eventually turned down the grant after they realized the county could not afford yearly costs to maintain a new jail.
According to Withrow’s vision, staffing would begin with 16 correctional officers to supervise four modular jail facilities, four to a building. He said the department already has 12 funded but open correctional officer positions and was granted permission by the Board of Supervisors to add four more correctional officers as part of an earlier proposal. That plan fell through when Stanislaus County took priority over San Joaquin County to get state funding from Senate Bill 1022, a 2012 act authorizing $500 million in bonds to build jails and prisons.
Withrow said adding modular buildings would make it possible to hold inmates for their full sentences, while the honor farm could teach them skills and try to change their behavior so they would stay out of jail after their release.
“We’re not going to fix them all — if we fix half of them, that would be massive,” Withrow said. “Every one we fix is one less person breaking into our home or car.”
Withrow said Moore’s plans for more permanent jail buildings are five or six years down the line, but the county needs a solution now.
“All we have now, all the district attorney can afford to prosecute or keep in custody until trial, is the baddest of the bad,” he said.
In addition to easing crowding at the county jail, Withrow said he would like to expand a drug monitoring program for inmates if he became sheriff. He explained that he started a program using patches to monitor alcohol and drug use among the people he supervises in the Alternative Work Program, who serve out their sentences while living at home and working in the community. Withrow said he didn’t know of any other jails using mandatory drug monitoring for inmates in custody. He acknowledged that cost could be a problem but said he hoped to find a way to fund a pilot program.
As sheriff, Withrow said he would also change the way deputies are assigned throughout the county.
In response to a growing number of agricultural crimes, Withrow said he would rebuild the ag crimes unit that was once eight deputies but has been reduced to the equivalent of 1.5 deputies.
The sergeant said he would take deputies from the community car program — which assigns a deputy to patrol a particular rural area in effort to get to know the people who live there — and create two four-person teams to investigate crimes such as wires ripped from water pumps, fuel thefts, scrap metal thefts and tractor thefts.
Withrow also contended that Mountain House should be covered as a normal beat within San Joaquin County.
He said the Mountain House Community Services District has a contract for deputy service, and that contract should provide officers above the minimum beat coverage the town should receive.
“I think the sheriff is shortchanging them by not having that originally covered officer and then they get to pay extra for it,” Withrow said.
He suggested using new technology, including cameras and license plate readers, which would be able to recognize stolen cars or vehicles registered to child molesters driving near schools.
“I think we need to be smarter with our money in Mountain House and invest in technology,” Withrow said. “License plate readers are cheaper than officers, so we can enhance their protection by not necessarily spending all our money on bodies. But I think we need to bring in more deputies to make it not just safer for the citizens but for our officers down there.”
• Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org