Orange County Supervisors had one of their first public discussions on next year’s $9.3 billion budget on Tuesday and directed staff to move ahead with expanded spending on law enforcement despite concerns from public commenters. 

The expanded spending comes amid a years-long reckoning on how best to police communities in the wake of 2020 protests after the police beating death of George Floyd and other people of color that’s generated new questions on how law enforcement do their jobs.

According to the proposed budget, the county is looking to earmark over $962 million for the sheriff’s department.

Both departments are asking for more funding from supervisors on top of the planned expansions, with the DA asking for nearly $4 million and the sheriffs asking for $3.5 million more than what’s been earmarked.

While county supervisors won’t officially adopt the budget until June 27, they directed staff to move ahead with much of the expanded spending and to factor that into the final budget.  

District Attorney Todd Spitzer argued his office needs all the funding they can get their hands on amid new state laws that he says make it easier for convicted criminals to appeal their cases. 

“I think unequivocally that the legislative impacts by Sacramento are unfunded mandates,” Spitzer said. “It is intense, intense work on both the public defender’s side and my side.” 

Spitzer also pushed county leaders not to accept a $4 million grant for the public defender’s office from the state earlier this year, arguing that it would give the public defender’s office an unfair advantage in arguing such cases against the DA. 

[Read: Orange County District Attorney Objects to Public Defender Grant Funds]

The DA’s office has a total budget of $190 million for the upcoming fiscal year, while the public defender’s office has a budget of $107.8 million according to the county’s draft budget. 

Spitzer is looking to add 12 new positions for post-conviction litigation according to the budget request. He also asked for a new $2.5 million case management system, but that request was kicked to the mid-year budget review.  

Sheriff Don Barnes is asking for nine new officers and vehicles to join the departments’ Behavioral Health Bureau, a new division with the department that pairs a deputy sheriff with someone from the county’s health care department to speak with homeless residents and offer them services. 

Undersheriff Jeff Hallock, who spoke on the department’s behalf, said they currently have just over a dozen officers working in the bureau, but that nearly half of them are focused exclusively on the Santa Ana riverbed area and that they want to expand throughout the county. 

“That co-responder model is where a trained behavioral health deputy works alongside an HCA clinician, and they work together and really respond to calls for service, support deputies that are out in the field,” Hallock said at the meeting. “

Of Barnes’ requested $3.5 million budget expansion, nearly $2.8 million will go to that program, with the rest going to new positions for the court operations division and one sergeant for the county auto theft task force. 

In May, OC Supervisors recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $7.5 million with the family of Kurt Reinhold, a homeless man who was shot and killed by two sheriff deputies in 2020 after fighting with them during a jaywalking stop. 

Sheriff’s officials argued Reinhold attempted to grab a deputy’s gun. Both deputies were part of the homeless outreach team. 

[Read: OC to Pay $7.5 Million to Family of Homeless Man Killed During Jaywalking Stop]

The new budget also doesn’t take into account the ongoing contract negotiations with the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents the rank and file officers of the sheriff’s department.  

Some speakers at the board meeting questioned why supervisors were dedicating so much new spending to the sheriffs, such as Eve Garrow, a policy analyst for the southern California branch of the ACLU. 

“My question to the board is why you continue to dedicate the majority of the discretionary or net county cost budget, 54% this year, to law enforcement, the DA, and jails,” Garrow said. 

“So many of your constituents are struggling with skyrocketing rent. Thousands are pushed onto our streets where they face higher and higher risks of death,” she continued. “You have the power to make the moral choice to create a county in which all of our neighbors can flourish.” 

Despite similar concerns from other commenters, supervisors did not discuss reducing funding, and Spitzer praised the work law enforcement was already doing. 

“Every single member of this board is committed to helping people, every one of you, and you’ve put millions and millions of dollars into programs to effectuate that outcome,” Spitzer said. “But every single one of you also understands that there are some people who are doing so much harm to our community that we must protect the public.” 

Supervisors’ final vote on the budget is currently scheduled for June 27, just days before the new budget will take effect on July 1. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.


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