H-SANTA MARIA

Jun 27, 2011 10:32 PM by Ariel Wesler

Santa Maria Police face day one of jail closure

If there wasn't enough going on in Santa Maria today for police, today was the first day they had to deal with a new way of handling anyone they want take to jail.

As part of budget cuts, the branch of the Santa Barbara County jail that is located in Santa maria will only be open three days a week starting today.

All other days officers in the Santa Maria Valley or northern Santa Barbara County will have to either cite and release or make the hour-plus drive to the main jail in Goleta.

"It's gonna be a headache," said Officer Nathan Totorica with the Santa Maria Police Department.

He usually arrests one person daily. He patrols Santa Maria, north of Fesler.

"We're already operating understaffed and you start taking a couple patrol officers off the streets, it's going to make it extremely difficult," Totorica said.

Around 12-30, he arrested a 23-year-old for using illegal drugs. The man also had a warrant from an earlier arrest, where he violated probation. He was originally arrested for running away from police.

"We're going to find out what we're doing with you in about 20 minutes, because we don't know," Totorica told the suspect.

Even criminals have heard the Santa Maria jail is only open part time.

Ariel: Have you heard the jail's closed?

Suspect: "Yeah, I was wondering how that was going to work out."

Back at the station, Totorica put the man in a holding cell while he figured out how to handle the situation He feared he would be the first person to have to drive down to Goleta's main jail.

"I've got for hours left on my shift and I will not be back in the city to assist my other partners until it's time for me to get off work," Totorica said.

He ended up not having to drive to Goleta after all.

"In this instance, we got lucky. The court's willing to take him right now," Totorica said.

But in his experience, drug criminals don't show up for court, so citing and releasing does no good and will keep bad guys on the streets.

"There's no real deterrent to not commit crime," Totorica said. "In my opinion, it makes our job a lot more dangerous."

There is still a little bit of confusion as far as who goes to jail when. Police say another gray area surrounds drunk driving arrests. Instead of letting the DUI suspect sober up in the jail overnight, officers now have to cite and release the suspect to a responsible individual.

Another man was taken to Goleta today for felony possession of stolen property. Chief Assistant District Attorney Ann Bramson will meet with Santa Maria police tomorrow to clarify what to do when the jail is closed.

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