SISKIYOU COUNTY, Calif. -- The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office covers California's fifth-largest county by area at about 6,300 square miles. The U.S. Census Bureau pins the county's population at about 45,000 people.
Sheriff Jon Lopey has 49 sworn deputies at his disposal to patrol, investigate and handle court security in the sparsely populated county. His office also provides contract police services for the small towns of Dorris, Montague, Fort Jones and Dunsmuir.
Off Interstate 5, traveling to calls in remote spots including Forks of Salmon and Dorris means hours on winding, two-lane roads.
"We're spread thin," Lopey said. "It takes you a couple hours to get from I-5 to the county line with Humboldt."
Making matters worse, the sheriff's office has lost nearly a third of its employees in recent years because of budget cuts spawned by a poor economy, Lopey said. The sheriff's office cut nearly $3 million from its budget between 2007 and 2012, according to county documents.
Crime has also increased some 14 percent in recent years, he said.
And while the sheriff can meticulously draft a budget, there's no guarantee crime in a given year will follow that plan. Money is tighter working for a county than the state, he said.
"If you went over budget, it was a serious matter but they typically could find the money," Lopey said of his time with the California Higway Patrol. "In the county there is no money."
He also mentions the state's prison realignment plan that's shifting more low-level offenders to county jails and local supervision, as another challenge to his department.
"The county jails are becoming mini-prisons," Lopey said. "In the future the trend is we can't keep people in jail because we don't have the bed space."
The county is exploring building a new jail, but construction would still be four to five years away.
The state awarded the funds to the county Sept. 13, but several steps in the process remain, including approval by the board of supervisors.
Lopey said he's working to re-scope the project and come up with matching funds - roughly 5 percent of the $24 million grant - before presenting the project to supervisors.
"In my opinion, this is a great opportunity for the county to build a new jail which will meet the needs of Siskiyou County for up to 50 years and maybe longer since we will have the ability to expand the jail in a modular fashion instead of paying the construction of a new jail later," Lopey said.