The five-week manhunt this fall that ended with the shooting death of murder suspect Aaron Bassler in a rugged Mendocino County forest cost three of the participating agencies more than $600,000 in overtime, food, transportation, lodging and supply expenses.
More than a dozen agencies participated in the massive search near Fort Bragg but most did not track their time or costs.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, whose department led the operation, said the costs were unavoidable.
"I can't think of too many things we could have done to cut our costs," he said. "We certainly were not going to walk away from this." he said.
Allman said Mendocino County's costs for overtime, lodging and food for his and other agencies' law officers were $266,591. That does not include law enforcement officers' regularly scheduled work hours.
The officers were searching for Bassler, a mentally unstable Fort Bragg man accused of ambushing and killing Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo and land trust manager Matthew Coleman in August shootings that were separated by two weeks time and many miles. The hunt ended when Sacramento Sheriff's Department snipers killed Bassler Oct. 1.
About 60 law enforcement officers and a few dogs combed the dense woods east of Fort Bragg on a daily basis. Bassler, who grew up spending time in the 400 square miles of forest east of Fort Bragg, proved a wily adversary by eluding capture several times.
Few of the assisting agencies kept track of the hours their employees contributed to the manhunt.
"It's just part of doing business," said Fort Bragg Police Chief Scott Mayberry. He said he sent officers to assist when they were available.
The U.S. Marshals Service — a major contributor to the law enforcement power — also doesn't track the hours its officers spend assisting other agencies but it worked up estimates upon request.
The agency incurred an estimated $250,000 in expenses for lodging, travel, food and equipment during the manhunt, said Joseph Palmer, deputy U.S. marshal for the District of Northern California.
That includes little or no overtime because most U.S. marshals are salaried, he said.
Forty to 50 of the agency's officers participated daily in the search, working 12- to 20-hour shifts for about 30 days, Palmer said.
The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department contributed 28 people who each worked about 72 hours — 2,016 hours — to the effort, said department spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos. He did not have a cost estimate.
The privately owned Skunk Train, which runs through the forest between Fort Bragg and Willits, played a big role in the operation and incurred $112,944 in costs, said spokesman Robert Pinoli.
That total includes lost passenger revenue and the costs of carrying law enforcement officers and equipment into and out of the forest several times a day for 37 days, he said.
Pinoli said the cash-strapped Sheriff's Office has not been asked to help with the costs. Instead, train officials are working with legislators and other officials to see whether alternative funding sources are available.
Allman also said he is seeking outside assistance to help pay for the extraordinary expenses. But the budget hit may not be as severe as it first appears.
The department's budget is in better shape than expected in other areas, said Norman Thurston, who manages the department's budget. A bright spot is the more than $600,000 in the agency's medical marijuana licensing program, more than twice what was budgeted, he said.