PACIFIC COUNTY — Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir’s greatest joy and biggest challenge this year are the same: Staffing.
Souvenir took control of the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office in January 2019. In the months that followed, Sgt. Mike Ray, Deputy Rick Goodwin, Lt. Jim Bergstrom and Denise Rowlett left the office.
All four had 20-plus years experience at the sheriff’s office.
That was a lot of experience to lose in the first year and it will take time to rebuild, Souvenir said.
“But I am excited to see new people with new ideas,” Souvenir said. “The new people coming in are excited and they’re passionate about what they’re doing.”
What happened in 2019
Despite the staffing challenges and a busy first year, Souvenir had some small and large accomplishments in 2019: From the purchase of a new washer and dryer for the jail to the lifesaving actions of Sgt. Jon Ashley, Deputy Ryley Queener, Deputy Tony Kimball and reserve Deputy Ben Woodby during Rod Run weekend.
With the administrative leave and later firing of Chief Criminal Deputy Matt Padgett, Souvenir and his command staff are doing more day-to-day tasks than normal. Souvenir said he plans to fill that position with a law enforcement officer this year. With possible pending litigation from Padgett, Souvenir said he couldn’t discuss the details of his firing. Without the second chief criminal deputy the office is down five patrol officers as of Jan. 13, Souvenir said. Three are in the law enforcement academy and two positions still need to be filled.
This had led to some concerns on the peninsula. Bonnie Lou Cozby is Village Club president and an Ocean Park Area Chamber of Commerce board member. Although the sheriff’s first year in office was bound to be rough, the result was a decrease in patrols on the north end of the peninsula, Cozby said. At a Village Club meeting on Jan. 9, club members voiced concerns about the potential risks from the perceived lack of law enforcement.
“We fully support our sheriff’s department and hope to create a better relationship and open communications this year,” Cozby said. “I’m sure Sheriff Souvenir will be on the same page.”
The club worked hard to establish a relationship with former Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson, Cozby said. While the same relationship has yet to flourish with Souvenir, she said she hopes that will change in 2020. Village Club’s success comes from finding solutions by understanding the limitations of an office or organization and learning how best to reach out.
“Simply complaining just doesn’t cut it,” Cozby said.
Souvenir furthered his own training in 2019 and attended a civil school for Washington state sheriffs. The civil duties of the sheriff’s office are a high-liability area and the school provided training on how to handle things like permitting and evictions. He and his staff also got trained in mental health first aid by Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright.
An additional corrections officer position was added to the office in order to put an officer in the courthouse for security.
A splash drone was purchased through the State Boating Program. The drone can fly through rain to drop a flotation device to people in danger of drowning, Souvenir said.
The office is in the process of training a drug K-9 officer. Michael and Barbara Carmel donated the money needed to buy and train the new K-9 as well as its handler, Souvenir said. Deputy Jesse Eastham will likely be the new K-9 handler.
To address the office’s aging fleet, it purchased new patrol vehicles, including five Ford F-150s and one Ford Ranger. Souvenir said the office went with trucks after he noticed his deputies having to handcuff bicycles to the fronts of their cars. The old patrol cars also were two-wheel drive.
To help clear out unused vehicles, the office donated an old bus to the Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta, a military surplus ATV to Pacific Fairgrounds crew and a utility terrain vehicle to Pacific County groundskeepers. Sgt. Jon Ashley and deputies Eastham and Tony Kimball are also working to clear the office’s evidence locker.
To help with the hiring needs of the office, Souvenir lowered the required age to be corrections officers and dispatchers from 21 to 18.
Direction for 2020
Souvenir’s long-term goals remain similar to those he campaigned on. He wants to increase the numbers in the reserve program, restart the office’s search and rescue program, fill all open positions, fund a drug task force program and get medically assisted drug treatment into the jail. He is working with the health department to get a medical prescriber in the jail to provide the opioid treatment suboxone to those who need it. The sheriff said he’s gotten pushback on drug treatment in the jail, but he stressed that it is safer both for inmates and corrections officers.
“It is the difference between seeing somebody go through withdrawal and somebody being able to maintain,” Souvenir said.
Karen DeLessert is part of the Pacific County Community Watch/Neighborhood Watch group and is working on the One Voice Initiative. The initiative sprang out of the watch group as a way to put forth community concerns in a unified and organized manner. DeLessert saw criminal activity reduce due to the dedication of the watch group as well as the involvement of the sheriff’s office, she said. But it continues to fluctuate, she said. A drug task force would make the difference, she said.
At a meeting of county officials and state legislators on Dec. 12, Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said he would be working to get funding for the task force during the 2020 Legislative Session. DeLessert wrote to Takko to ask about how the community could help support his efforts.
Souvenir is hopeful the legislative session, which started this week in Olympia, will send dollars for the task force. But he is prepared to make the request again to the Pacific County Board of Commissioners in 2021 budget discussions. And with the number of applicants and hires he has made both in the jail and in his patrol division, he is excited for what 2020 will bring.
“I think we’re going in the direction we need to go,” Souvenir said.
This story was updated to note a new corrections officer was added for courthouse security. And Howard Chang volunteered to oversee the office's CERT and Search and Rescue program.