In the High Desert, $1 million more will be directed to fund crime sweeps this coming fiscal year — an earmark championed by San Bernardino County Supervisors Chairman Robert Lovingood, who represents the 1st District.

In the High Desert, $1 million more will be directed to fund crime sweeps this coming fiscal year — an earmark championed by San Bernardino County Supervisors Chairman Robert Lovingood, who represents the 1st District.

The $1 million in discretionary general funding will be established in its own reserve account to pay for direct costs and overtime for law enforcement agencies that will conduct the sweeps.

The allocation, approved 3-2 on Tuesday, will re-direct $1 million from a county $5 million reserve fund, officials said.

"If we don't shift this conversation, not only today, but next year and every year following, until you turn that tide (of crime), we're at great risk," Lovingood said. "Each of our communities is at great risk."

He added that the state's push of responsibility to the county, without commensurate funding, has hampered law enforcement resources, particularly in the desert, where economic challenges are felt more.

"... If you think I'm satisfied at one point of hearing about a neighbor's house being broke into, or my own — backdoor kicked in in the middle of the afternoon in a gated community, and have my teenage daughters walk into that," he said, then adding: "Understand that we are in a position of action, and at least within the 1st (District).

"The critical need right now at this point is within the desert," he continued, "and I have never come and frivolously wasted any dollars that I've been responsible for and that brought about the request, and I think it's a pretty simple one to move forward with."

Lovingood had previously allocated funds for "Desert Guardian" crime sweeps in the Victor Valley.

In statements released Wednesday, Sheriff John McMahon and District Attorney Mike Ramos lauded the new financial commitment to sweeps.

"The additional $1 million will help in funding crime suppression operations that have proven to make a dent in those (crime-fighting) efforts with the goal of creating a safer environment for the residents in our county," McMahon said.

Ramos, who has agreed to partake in a forum on crime in the High Desert, equally praised Lovingood for pushing to combat crime in this region.

"Through this additional funding and our collaborative efforts with county officials and local law enforcement," Ramos said, "we will make a significant impact in our community."

Inmate fire crew restored

County officials Tuesday discussed the county's $5 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, and also restored funding for the year to the Inmate Fire Crew, which had been at risk of being eliminated.

Supervisors agreed to re-direct $1.5 million in general discretionary funding from the same $5 million reserve account used for the crime sweeps allocation to keep the program afloat.

The San Bernardino County Fire Protection District's recommended spending plan for fiscal year 2017-18 hadn't carved out money to bankroll the four-year-old program.

County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig noted that the department would have maintained a seasonal inmate fire crew, meaning that the $1.5 million shortfall would have equated to a reduction of capability — not an outright elimination.

But Supervisors had pressed for the program to be fully funded, with 4th District Supervisor Curt Hagman describing the benefit: "You get lots of bang for that dollar."

Hartwig acknowledged it was a top priority, yet "unfortunately, I have more highest priorities than I do dollars coming in."

Although it's funded for the coming fiscal year, officials will have to identify a longer-term sustainable funding source in the near future.

Since its inception in June 2013, the program has afforded low-level and low-risk inmates, who might otherwise have been eligible for the state's inmate fire crew program, the opportunity to respond to fires and to perform community beautification projects.

Inmate crews had responded to 783 requests for service as of calendar year 2016, according to County Fire Deputy Chief John Chamberlain, not including outside calls where County Fire provided aid to adjoining jurisdictions.

Crews logged nearly 85,000 hours last year, saving taxpayers more than $2 million, Lovingood said Wednesday. The crews also spent nine days fighting the BlueCut Fire and helped collect 578 tons of trash around the High Desert.

The joint partnership between County Fire and the Sheriff's Department maintains 23 positions, including both men and women, Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman recently said.

Wonder Valley fire station saved

Supervisors also restored $1.5 million Tuesday for the Wonder Valley Fire Station that serves Interstate 40 between Barstow to the Arizona stateline.

Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.