Citizen group starts petition for deputies

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The patrol strength of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office dominated discussion at the Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Committee meeting Sept. 7, as the committee resolved to revise and circulate a petition to increase the number of deputies next year.

The petition would then be handed to Jefferson County commissioners.

Sheriff Dave Stanko said he expects to ask for four new full-time employees to fill his department’s patrol requirements, at an estimated annual cost of $140,000 per deputy.

“Last year, I asked for two patrol deputies, and I got none,” said Stanko, who noted that 2017 did see an increase in the number of corrections officers at the county jail. “Our department needs to add seven more [employees] by 2020.”

In addition to not only reiterated the findings of a five-year staffing level and forecast study completed by Washington State University in 2016, Stanko again cited the 19 minutes that Deputy Derek Allen had to wait for backup as he attempted to arrest Glen Jones in Brinnon Jan. 29. While Allen waited for backup, Jones allegedly attacked him with a claw hammer.

“We have 13 active patrolmen to cover 400 miles of roads and a population of 20,000, including three school districts and 1,500 students,” Stanko said. “But on any given work shift, we have maybe two to three folks on patrol at the most, and occasionally only one. That’s not good practice.”

Stanko would welcome a more diverse department, both in gender and in ethnicity, and while he acknowledged that the three potential funding sources for additional deputies would be either the general fund, a property tax lid lift or a public safety levy, he said, “I don’t care how they choose to pay for deputies.”

HOUSING ISSUE

When asked if a lack of affordable housing has affected the ability of the sheriff’s department to hire new staff, Stanko agreed it’s had an impact “regardless of income,” reporting that one deputy lives in Gig Harbor and drives 62 miles to work every day.

When presented with an initial draft of the petition, which committee members would circulate among county residents to collect signatures, committee member Jon Langdon warned about the potential for too many statistics overwhelming the personal impact of fewer deputies on the streets.

Fellow civilian committee member Richard Schulte suggested personalizing the petition with further anecdotes about insufficiently policed neighborhoods, while member Dan Nieuwsma recommended keeping it simple and focused, and noted the draft petition’s statistic that claims the county expects a surplus in this year’s budget.

Schulte agreed to revise the petition and submit it to committee chair Anna Phillips for final review, after which committee members would go out to their respective neighborhoods to solicit signatures and return the signed copies of the petition by Nov. 2, the date of the committee’s next meeting.

“Is this political?” Langdon asked, recalling Stanko’s earlier comments that the committee’s value lies in its nonpartisan nature.

“This committee identifies needs of the community and brings that information back to the commissioners,” Stanko said.

“It’s a concern of the community that it needs more deputies. We’re not taking a stance on property taxes. We’re not endorsing anything.”

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