There is backlash from Fresno County police chiefs after the closures of seven branch courts. They say it's costing their police departments money and they question whether the court really needed to make the cuts. Fresno County sheriff, along with 14 police chiefs, signed a letter to Presiding Judge Gary Hoff. The letter criticizes the county court for closing seven branch courts.
The doors are locked at the former Firebaugh courthouse. It's one of five branch courts in Fresno County closed since Monday. Hoff says state budget cuts forced drastic changes.
“The decision to close the branch courts was not one made lightly,” said Hoff.
Police chiefs in rural areas of the county say the closures will waste their time and money. It forces officers to travel from places like Mendota and Coalinga to Fresno to appear in court.
“The time lost in small communities where you only have two of three officers on duty, and we're fighting a crime problem, it makes it almost impossible to provide the level of service we should be providing,” said Chief Jerry Galvan of the Mendota Police Department.
The letter alleges the county court has $12 million dollars in reserves, which may be spent on a new computer system. Hoff says the county court only has $9 million in reserves and the software the courts use now is outdated.
“It's necessary to keep up with the times and the operations and be efficient,” said Hoff.
Any money left in reserves will be taken by the state in two years anyway. Hoff says the court is dealing with a difficult budget by implementing furloughs, leaving positions vacant, and even laying off some employees.
“Our decision was made based on our budget. While that has some fiscal impacts on the citizens and those agencies, they don't control our budget and we don't have any input on theirs,” said Hoff.
Police chiefs say everyone should have been considered.
“When we make decisions at the police department, we don't just look at the impact on my department, but the impact it's going to have on the city as a whole,” said Chief Joe Garza of the Reedley Police Department.
Clovis and Kingsburg branch courts will close Monday, August 6th. Sanger, Selma, Coalinga, Firebaugh, and Reedley branch courts closed on July 1st.