OCEAN PARK — Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir has some big goals for the county.
Souvenir visited the Pacific County Community Watch/Neighborhood Watch at its April 25 meeting. During the meeting, he talked about his goals for the department, many of which relate to campaign promises he made before being elected.
“One of the things that was expressed before was that we’ve been kind of talking in generalities,” Souvenir said. “A lot of folks have said ‘Great. Give us lip service. You tell us what it is you’re going to do, but how are you going to actually do that?’”
Souvenir’s overall focuses for the sheriff’s office are addressing drug use, improving the county’s reserves program, improving community relationships, and strengthening community partnerships.
“We are dedicated to making the county a safe place to work, live and play with the resources provided,” Souvenir said.
Souvenir plans to accomplish his goals by focusing on officer safety; getting community input; being accountable with taxpayers; improving community quality of life; collaborating through partnerships; finding and maintaining sustainable funding; and maintaining high professional standards.
“You guys are our customers,” Souvenir said. “We need to know what it is that you expect in the future.”
The sheriff’s office has saved taxpayers money in two ways so far, Souvenir said. First, he decided to not fill a lieutenant position and instead filled it with a sergeant, who is at a lower pay rate and spends more time patrolling the county. Second, some of the vehicles the sheriff’s office owns are being replaced, which is providing the office with a profit.
Since Souvenir took office in January, the sheriff’s office has faced turnover in multiple roles.
“It’s a blessing and a curse at this point,” Souvenir said. “It makes it harder for us to do our job, but after all this we get to start building this and thinking of the folks we want working for us. We get to look at them and make sure their morals and values are aligned to our department.”
Building reserve force
Souvenir hopes to increase the county’s reserve deputy program, which would add county deputies for no charge to residents. The county has two reserve deputies.
“The real difference between a reserve deputy and a full-time deputy is these guys are doing it for free,” Souvenir said. “They’re doing it for training, to better their communities.
Souvenir plans on actively recruiting more reserve deputies for the county.
In the meantime, the sheriff’s office is doing what it can with the resources it has, Souvenir said. He wants community members to have at least 90 percent satisfaction with the sheriff’s office.
“That’s how we’re going to change the culture. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Souvenir said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Drug task force
Another focus of the sheriff’s office is establishing a drug task force. The sheriff’s office used to have a program but the program was cut after state legislators decided to stop funding rural drug task forces.
“We were able to show some real good results,” said Pacific County Chief Criminal Deputy Pat Matlock, who led the task force. “We saw a lot of property crime and theft went down. We saw a lot of the drugs off our streets.”
The task force was made up of three full-time deputies. Now, there aren’t enough deputies or enough funding to make up a taskforce.
“We lost those positions because we simply couldn’t sustain it at a county level,” Matlock said. “We want to change that with what we have. We have to have driven people to do the job. This can’t just be any cop doing this kind of work.”
Souvenir believes citizens and the sheriff’s office need to ask county commissioners and state representatives to make the drug task force a reality.
“What we need to do is ask for funding that would help us dedicate folks to a drug task force,” Souvenir said. “If we have dedicated funding, we have a dedicated deputy.”
The loss of the taskforce has put more pressure on deputies to balance responding to calls and working on curbing drug use.
“There are several other places around our county that we need to get to and we’re trying to do that as time warrants,” Matlock said. “That means we have to have time to get together. I come out at different hours to help our people do this work.”
The sheriff’s office also is trying to reduce recidivism in the jail, which is a big part of the county’s drug problem, Matlock said. The jail is a 29-bed facility but currently has about 58 people.
“How do we stop that? We need to head it off before they get in jail, not while they’re in it because that clogs things up,” Matlock said. “We try to get them off the streets by training our guys better to understand what’s going on and look beyond tickets, to look at what’s causing the root problem.”
The sheriff’s office partners with Willapa Behavioral Health and other organizations to help treat offenders’ substance abuse and mental health issues.
“We’re trying to do our part to recognize that we can’t quickly arrest the problem away,” Matlock said.
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For more information on the neighborhood watch program, contact Howard Chang at 425-559-3175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.