Shannon Dicus is no stranger to communication. The law enforcement veteran of more than 30 years has a master’s degree in the subject.
Now, as the newly appointed head of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Dicus said he wants to better relations between law enforcement and the citizens they serve via more meetings where residents can express their concerns.
“We really throw words around like transparency a lot. To me, it’s just root communication and getting the word to those people about what their deputies do for them out there,” he said.
Dicus — who became the county’s top law enforcement officer after predecessor John McMahon retired last month — spoke with the Daily Press on Thursday to discuss some of his goals for the department, as well as pressing issues in the High Desert, such as illegal marijuana cultivation.
Outreach to younger people
Community meetings between deputies and the public, known as “information exchanges,” already occur in the county. But Dicus said he has tailored them so that groups that are influential in their communities can meet directly with the captains of each patrol station.
Topics may include specific local law enforcement concerns or questions when a controversial incident occurs in the jurisdiction.
Dicus said he has also chosen to focus on reaching out to younger people — specifically in the 18 to 35 age range — who may feel they don’t have a voice, especially in the wake of increased scrutiny of police departments and protests since last year.
Through the “next-gen” exchanges, small groups will team up with a deputy and talk about the issues that impact them.
“I think it makes the community feel like they have a greater voice that’s more related to them and the community they live in,” Dicus said.
Deputies may start wearing cameras this year
One move that may increase transparency is the implementation of body-worn cameras, which the department has been exploring and testing for several years.
The county budget approved in June included about $5.2 million to establish such a program.
In 2017, Apple Valley and Highland deputies began wearing the cameras as part of a one-year pilot program.
Calls to revisit the program increased after a TV news cameraman captured deputies beating Apple Valley resident Francis Pusok following a wild horseback chase in April 2015, the Daily Press reported.
Cameras were also used by deputies in Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga between February 2012 and May 2013 but received mixed results.
A study released in 2021 found that one benefit of the cameras is a drop in complaints against police and use of force by police.
Dicus said that while his deputies “love body-worn” cameras, fixing them to every uniform may be more complicated.
“(Deputies) certainly have embraced it, and the only thing that’s lowered our implementation of this really is the size of the county and the infrastructure that’s available to ride this technology on,” he said.
According to the sheriff, wearing the cameras countywide will require bolstering infrastructure in rural areas to be able to handle transmitting hours of video data. In more populated areas where fiber optic cable is available, deputies may be able to wear the devices sooner.
Dicus said the county has sent out a request for information from various vendors and hopes to see deputies start to wear the cameras in the fall or winter of this year.
Keeping repeat offenders out of jail
Reducing recidivism is also among the sheriff’s goals.
Dicus said he started a new command group that focuses on providing services aimed at reducing the chance for arrest of individuals released from jails.
Though the department offers reentry services, Dicus said some inmates don’t spend enough time in custody to take full advantage of the program and end up back in county jail.
“So it’s more of an end-to-end look at providing those resources to them even after they’re released,” he said.
A 2018 report found that repeat offenders over a 5-year period took up more than 5 million beds in San Bernardino County jails with half them back in custody — not because of a new crime — but due to offenses such as probation violations or warrants for not appearing in court.
At that time, Dicus told this newspaper that the department had to ask itself which programs were successful “in keeping people out of jail.”
With the new command group, Dicus said his agency has partnered with counselors who work with inmates who may have suffered trauma, which may increase the likelihood to reoffend.
Proposed illegal marijuana cultivation ordinance would increase penalties
Illegal marijuana cultivation has been a hot-button issue in the High Desert and nearby counties of late, especially among rural residents in places where the grows are more likely to sit, and where commercial cannabis activities are prohibited.
Officials have said the lack of real penalties for cultivation has come with increased threats of environmental harm, excessive water usage, electricity theft and violence.
In June, then-Sheriff McMahon said his Marijuana Enforcement Team, or MET — a group of deputies assigned specifically to tacking the grows — had been overwhelmed and received reports of 850 cultivation sites and predicted there were another 200 unreported.
County supervisors at the time allocated about $10.4 million to address community concerns, such as illegal cannabis.
Dicus said Thursday that about $4 million has gone toward a collaborative effort with county Code Enforcement and has increased his marijuana enforcement fivefold.
The department now has five METs which Dicus said he plans to assign to specific regions. He also hopes an ordinance being considered by the supervisors on Tuesday will be a hindrance to illegal growers.
If the ordinance passes, the fines for a conviction of illegal cultivation — which is currently a misdemeanor — would increase significantly.
Instead of a $500 to $1,000 fine, a person convicted of growing fewer than 200 plants could face a fine of up to $1,000 for a first conviction, up to $1,500 for a second and up to $3,000 for a third.
For those convicted of growing more than 200 plants, the fines for a first, second and third conviction within a year grow to $3,000, $6,000 and up to $10,000, respectively.
Those aren’t the only penalties, however.
An owner of a property on which an illegal grow is found could face civil fines, as well.
A person whose property is found with more than 200 plants could be issued an initial citation of $3,000, a second of $6,000 and subsequent citations of $10,000.
Attacking growers’ pockets is a move Dicus said he believes will hamper the lucrative black marijuana market:
“Instead of playing whack-a-mole, like we do now where we take them down and they pop back up, my hope is that this ordinance will again make it inhospitable for illegal marijuana grows, and they’re going to choose to do that somewhere else rather than San Bernardino County.”
Daily Press reporter Martin Estacio may be reached at 760-955-5358 or MEstacio@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_mestacio.