Sheriff’s committee weighs housing, deputies

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 7/11/17

“I don’t see them as adversarial interests,” Jefferson County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Anna Phillips told fellow members of the Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Committee July 6. “To me, …

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Sheriff’s committee weighs housing, deputies

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“I don’t see them as adversarial interests,” Jefferson County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Anna Phillips told fellow members of the Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Committee July 6. “To me, public safety and housing are interconnected.”

Phillips made this declaration after Sheriff Dave Stanko reiterated the findings of the Washington State University staffing study that concluded that his department needs seven additional deputies. Earlier at that same meeting, Bruce Cowan, manager of the Homes Now! campaign on behalf of the levy, had made a guest appearance to explain the county’s proposal for a seven-year property tax levy to establish a home opportunity fund.

“Based on the size of the county and the population projections, we’ll need seven more deputies by 2020,” said Stanko, who 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.

DEPUTIES GOING SOLO

While Stanko deemed it one of his primary goals to send his deputies home safe after they’d finished their shifts, he also admitted to sending them out solo on a number of calls, even in situations when the backup of at least one other deputy is recommended, such as domestic violence calls.

“We have to protect the public, first and foremost,” Stanko said.

Stanko credited Port Townsend Police Chief Mike Evans with working to develop a mutually beneficial partnership between their departments, and acknowledged that such staffing problems are not uncommon in law enforcement across the state.

“We’re begging folks to work for us as it is,” Stanko said. “I’ve talked to the county commissioners until my gums bled about the need for a high school resource officer, and we only have one deputy to cover the Hoh Tribe. I don’t care how it’s funded; I’ll take it.”

HOUSING ALSO ‘ESSENTIAL’

While committee member Jon Langdon called it “intolerable” that deputies such as Allen should have to wait so long for backup, he also agreed with Cowan that affordable housing is an essential component in preserving the health and safety of county residents.

“The big question is, what does the public care about?” Langdon said.

Phillips shied away from framing the question as additional deputies versus affordable housing, describing it as a “multifaceted problem,” with Cowan agreeing that voters could address “different issues at different times,” especially since the home opportunity fund levy – if approved by the county commissioners – would appear on the November ballot. Phillips pointed out the logistic impossibility of developing a ballot measure for more deputies by the same deadline.

“They’re not adversarial interests, but they are competing for money,” Stanko said.

Phillips cited housing instability as one of many paths that can lead people toward crime, just as Cowan recalled his own experience as a public school teacher, dealing with students whose educations were compromised by their transient or unreliable housing situations.

CHILDREN WITHOUT HOMES

“A hundred children are without homes,” Cowan said. “A quarter of renters pay more than half their income on housing. The vacancy rate is below 1 percent. There simply isn’t enough affordable housing.”

Stanko encouraged community members to share their thoughts on how such concerns might be prioritized, and to do so by emailing him at dstanko@co.jefferson.wa.us. He asked that residents include their neighborhoods in the subject lines of their emails.

“That way, I’ll be able to forward their emails to the commission members who live in their areas,” Stanko said.

As Kathleen Kler, chair of the Board of County Commissioners, said during the July 10 board meeting, “We are aware of the need for more deputies, but that requires more money. Do we raise taxes?”

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