I had planned to spend last week at a Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs conference in Vancouver with lots of important issues to discuss. Mother Nature delayed the trip by a day however when on Monday she decided to send 90+mph wind gusts at us. I'm glad I was here though because this is where I belong when there's a chance of our Emergency Operations Center being activated. Even though we sustained property damage, thankfully we avoided any deaths or serious injuries. Late on Monday I was on my own roof trying to replace tarps that had blown off during a roofing project. I was getting pretty nervous, feeling like a human Frisbee. My daughter, Katie, calmed me down by telling me, "Dad, this storm isn't nearly strong enough to blow a 300-pound man off the roof." Thanks, I needed that.
I did make the conference on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I missed our executive board meeting on Monday but got briefed by our executive director on the topics discussed. I've been meeting with our Intelligence Committee over the past few months trying to find a common statewide system for storing crime data and intelligence. We are struggling with the many systems competing to provide those systems. The executive board heard a presentation and endorsed a concept if not a specific carrier. I spent time speaking with the advocates of several systems. It's a work in progress but we'll get there. It's too important not to. We've made enough progress already that our PACNET officers can now share information regionally to help the Regional Drug Task Force identify and arrest drug dealers. It's my goal that soon we'll have a statewide system that each patrol officer can both enter reports and field contact information into and recover criminal information added by officers statewide. These conferences are important in that we can all get in the same room and discuss these critical concerns in person. E-mail is great but you can't beat a personal conversation regarding a tough decision.
Tuesday was a really busy day. I spent the morning in committee meetings. I attended both the Corrections Committee meeting and the Traffic Safety Committee meeting. Both were dealing with issues of importance to our county in corrections. Senate Bill 6157 passed last session and is potentially threatening to small counties like ours. It shifts the responsibility of dealing with criminal recidivism away from the state and onto counties. Our lack of services and limited potential employment opportunities places us at a disadvantage. The law mandates that the Department of Corrections must release inmates at the end of their sentence to the county where their crime was committed. This is irrespective of where the inmate had resided prior to the conviction. We are presently having a Department of Corrections-released felon be forced to return to our county because his crime of conviction was committed in Pacific County even though he has family, a home and possible employment waiting in his county of residence. I urged the committee to focus on endorsing restructuring the bill to the legislature. The Department of Corrections representatives on the committee, recognizing the unwieldiness of the process, agreed to work with our county as much as possible to try and let a little common sense into the process.
The Traffic Safety Committee meeting was tough on my blood pressure. The Traffic Safety Commission has decided, as a result of a loss of some federal dollars, to require an hour for hour match of traffic patrol time in order to qualify for DUI and speeding emphasis patrol grant funds. This might be great for Washington State Patrol or large agencies that have traffic patrol units already. It's a knife across the jugular of every small agency in the state. We had depended upon the grants that the Traffic Safety Commission had provided in the past for the limited traffic enforcement we do. We had coordinated those patrols, based on traffic complaints around high volume areas, like the houses of local drug dealers. They were very effective. We typically netted traffic offenders with recently purchased drugs. We then worked backward and made several drug arrests as well.
I was loud and persistent enough that Lowell Porter, ex-chief of the Washington State Patrol and now director of the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission and I are having ongoing discussions about finding away to still quality. I told him that if I had enough staff and funding to have my own traffic patrols, I wouldn't be messing around trying to get a grant from him to make it happen. The reasoning, or lack thereof, from the commission is this area show the disconnect between state and local government. It also shows why it's important to be at these meetings. Stay tuned; we're meeting again next week to try to work something out.
Our Sheriff's Association met in the afternoon. We had a full agenda. Probably the most important matter we dealt with was an endorsement letter to our congressional delegation. We supported an issue that Steve Sultemeier, our corrections supervisor had identified some years ago. The federal and state governments cut off any benefits and services to inmates and their families upon arrest and incarceration in local jails, transferring these costs to the local jurisdiction. This forces local taxpayers to pay twice for the same expense. In addition, these people haven't been adjudicated guilty, only arrested on probable cause. We feel that the cost of the benefits should not be shifted locally, but maintained until a person is judged guilty or innocent. The loss of federal dollars is a huge fiscal impact on the state and local jurisdictions as well.
At our meeting we also decided how to distribute federal methamphetamine funds earmarked for the Western District of our state. Our share will be $16,000 - not enough for another officer but certainly a help with overtime costs.
Lt. Governor Brad Owen also spoke to our group Tuesday. He has been a good friend over the years and very supportive of local law enforcement.
We also discussed the issue of sex offenders in our communities. We have a legislative session beginning in February 2008. We must succeed in procuring necessary funding with which to competently deal with our responsibilities to our citizens. I believe that we have an opportunity to inform the state that it costs money to sufficiently staff a unit to keep close tabs on the registered sex offenders we are mandated to register. As sheriffs we are in agreement that King County's 4,000-plus registered sex offenders to Pacific County's 83 registered sex offenders, should both be treated with the same scrutiny to protect our citizens. We are planning strategy and developing action plans for the upcoming legislative session.
Wednesday is training day. There are usually several classes to choose from. It's a chance for executive training while being able to network at a conference. Offerings ranged from legislative information to leadership in police organizations to mobilization for major incidents to an overview of the Western State Information Network. Good stuff.
Thursday was our general business meeting. There was a sharp divide between sheriffs and police chiefs over the issue of authorizing tribal police officers to act as general authority Washington police officers. The issue raises concerns among sheriffs and some chiefs that the proposal doesn't hold the tribal executives or officers accountable for their actions. The issue of sovereign immunity is no fully addressed. Redress is partially provided through proposed private insurance policies but there are many more details to discuss. I'm on a workgroup that will be working with tribal police chiefs to continue to define solutions. Locally we have an agreement with the Shoalwater Tribal Police that provides limited commissions that has served both of us well over the years.
I just realized how long this is - and I'm only half finished. Suffice it to say we made some progress on many issues that will have a positive affect on us here at home. It's rewarding to have a chance to network with others who are dealing with the same issues we are here in Pacific County. I've always believed that a team is a stronger advocate than any one person. In the law enforcement arena, we will continue to work together to best serve you.