Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes gave an overview of the issues faced by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department over the course of 2020 in a FacebookLive video on December 30.
OCSD has been extremely active over the course of the year, dealing with major challenges such as COVID-19, protests following the death of George Floyd, and coordinating with the Orange County Fire Authority with fire-related issues.
Sheriff Barnes spoke specifically about the current controversy regarding a court order to release 1,800 inmates due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a move that has been challenged by Barnes with the support of numerous cities across the county as well as public officials such as Supervisor Michelle Steel.
He stated that the infection rate of inmates in Orange County jails seems higher than the public average because every single inmate in their care is tested. Most of those who tested positive have been asymptomatic. One inmate has died due to COVID-19; this individual had been housed alone and had underlying health conditions, nor would he have been eligible for release under the judge’s ruling, as he was serving a thirty-year sentence for rape and kidnap.
Sheriff Barnes also pointed out the danger of recidivism should such a large number of inmates be released.
Following this, he gave a rundown of crime trends throughout the county, which has seen a resurgence of drug traffic, especially in methamphetamine and cocaine. 8 million lethal doses have been seized over the year, along with $2.5 million in drug proceeds. The county has also seen a large surge in drug overdoses, particularly involving fentanyl, which Barnes described as “one of the greatest risks to the community.”
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is often combined with drugs such as cocaine and can easily result in a deadly overdose. Sheriff Barnes is involved with a bill that would incorporate the same penalties and enhancements for trafficking fentanyl as other drugs such as heroin or cocaine.
In the meantime, the Sheriff’s Department has been examining strategies to distance law enforcement personnel from social issues such as mental health and drug crises as well as homelessness.
There has been an upsurge in auto theft in both the number of crimes and their complexity, with a rise in stealing vehicles directly from dealerships through fraud. There has also been an increase in the theft of catalytic converters, which can be resold for their valuable materials. Several catalytic converter theft rings were broken in Ladera Ranch, Santa Ana, and Lake Forest.
The Sheriff urged members of the public to do their part in preventing such crimes by parking in their garage rather than in the driveway or on the street; not leaving valuables in their vehicle; and locking the vehicle.
Orange County residents are also encouraged to sign up for emergency notifications through AlertOC.
Finally, Sheriff Barnes reminded people that if they plan to have a drink, also have a plan in place to get home safely: designate a sober driver, call for a taxi or rideshare such as Lyft or Uber, etc. He also urged everyone to wear a mask while in public, practice social distancing, and not to go out if they don’t have to.