Call to arms leaves agencies shorthanded |

Call to arms leaves agencies shorthanded

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The echo of President Bush’s war cry against Iraq has reached South Shore law enforcement.

The call to activate about 150,000 reservists and National Guard members has stripped key employees from many American companies and institutions, such as Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, which has had to restructure its office and request more deputies.

Lt. Mike Biaggini, investigations division commander, said his department of two sergeants and seven investigators, will share the caseload of a colleague who was activated by the National Guard on Jan. 30.

“Some cases are going to stay on the bottom of the pile for a little bit longer,” Biaggini said. “I’ve picked up a case or two myself with the shortage.” Investigators usually tackle about 20 cases each.

Biaggini, who handles administrative duties and offers direction to investigators, said crimes against people still take priority. The unit will have to contend with an increased workload until Biaggini makes his case to a division commander for a patrol officer to become an interim investigator.

When a reservist returns home, federal law states the job left behind, or a similar one, must be waiting.

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“The only place where you can get fill-ins is the patrol division,” Biaggini said. “(But) they have their own problems to deal with.”

The effect of losing a patrol sergeant called to duty in December has trickled down to the jail division where a young deputy usually starts, said Chief Deputy Bob Rudnick.

The department recently promoted a patrol officer to interim sergeant. The department hasn’t filled the patrol spot, but help should be coming soon. On Thursday the Douglas County Commission voted to add two deputies to backfill the empty slots.

“Not only am I proud to secure this motion, but I want to congratulate those people in the military who are going over there,” Commissioner Kelly Kite said. “These people have my respect and admiration.”

Rudnick said a patrol officer will likely come from the jail division while the backfill positions will likely go to the jail. After a couple weeks of training, the officer would be ready to hit the streets.

“We don’t want to get behind the curve here,” Rudnick said.

Across the state border, the California Highway Patrol in Meyers will lose a full-time mechanic if the Marine reservist is called to duty.

Officer Sherry Reehl said plans are in the works if he departs.

“What we’ll probably have to do is borrow (a mechanic) from a nearby area,” Reehl said.

The CHP’s fleet of about a dozen vehicles must be tinkered with constantly. The department can ask the state for a new vehicle after the odometer hits 125,000 miles but with the budget crisis most patrol cars have soaring mileage.

“Those cars have so much wear and tear,” Reehl said. “They need constant maintenance. It’s the nature of the beast.”

Biaggini said his department is stretched thin but can handle the increased work.

“We haven’t gotten overwhelmed yet but if it starts picking up, we’re going to feel it,” Biaggini said.

— Jeff Munson contributed to this story. E-mail William Ferchland at