Sheriff stands behind resident deputy program


In the face of looming budget cuts to local law enforcement, Sheriff Rick Scott remains committed to the resident deputy program in the North Beach.

“It’s truly the grassroots original version of community-oriented policing,” he said of the concept that keeps officers stationed and living in the outlying areas of the county.

Scott said he has heard the concerns of North Beach residents who fear public safety would be compromised by changing the way the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Department patrols the vast section of the county, where two deputies currently live in the area they serve.

“The resident deputy program is something that has been in existence the 35-plus years I have been with the department,” said Scott, who was promoted from undersheriff to sheriff last year after the retirement of Mike Whelan.

When Whelan departed, the Sheriff’s department had gone from 88 officers in 1998 to 74, with a scaled-back budget and cuts in services.

Prior to Whelan, there was a brief time under former Sheriff Dennis Morrisette when the resident deputy program was discontinued “and we attempted to service the area out of central,” Scott said in an interview about the importance of the program.

The thinking at that time was that the community might be better served by having different deputies working the area. A fresh set of new eyes might see new problems or solutions, that was the philosophy.

“We found out quickly that the best service to the community, particularly that outlying area, is the resident deputy program,” Scott said. “Because when you have officers that are embedded in the community and are invested in the community, they come to know the ins and the outs. They know the good, the bad and the ugly about the community in ways that deputies who are just passing through really can’t come to grasp.”

FUNDING CONCERN

Funding to continue the resident deputy program has been under scrutiny in budget discussions ongoing within Grays Harbor County government.

Supporters who have appealed to the County Commission include Fire Chief John Collum of Fire District 8 at Pacific Beach and Chief Richard Dixon of Fire District 16 at Copalis Crossing. Others, such as Gina Rawlings of Ocean City, have been urging citizens to make their voices heard on keeping the deputies.

Chief Collum told commissioners in earlier deliberations that without a deputy on the beat, it will increase the wait time of ambulances trying to get to emergency scenes. He cited several cases in which paramedics were unable to get to patients because they had to wait a half hour for a deputy to clear a scene where a call involved a weapon. Eliminating the program means those officers would still be on the job, but they’d start their work day in Montesano.

As of Jan. 20, Scott told The Daily World that his office’s budget was in limbo as he waits for the county commissioners to decide whether he should cut his office by 3.5 percent, as mandated by the previous board, or to hold firm and keep his programs intact. The budget passed by the last board required Scott to cut $326,791 from his $9.6 million budget.

Scott would like to make the resident deputy program a permanent part of the department so it doesn’t become a budget-cutting target in the future.

“We really embrace that program,” he said, noting it has become a model for how the entire department generally operates, with deputies who live in the east part of the county covering that area, and deputies living west covering closer to their homes.

The difference is the resident deputies are on-call 24 hours a day in the period they are working and restrict their area to their specified territory. They do get compensated for the extra on-call time they are expected to put in.

Scott describes the situation with the budget as “stable” with the commission set to meet again in March, and all three commissioners telling him individually they support maintaining the resident deputy program.

He notes that the two deputies in the North Beach represent a step back from the peak of the program, which had five deputies in the North Beach and two in South Beach.

Of the five in the North Beach, three were focused from Ocean Shores to Moclips and inland to Grays Harbor City hills, and two of them were responsible for the Quinault areas.

“Back in those days, that’s when logging was at its heyday, and there was a lot of logging industry throughout the North Beach,” Scott said. “And there were a lot more people living in that Quinault/Amanda Park area. Calls for our service were far greater in the far-reaching parts of our county.”

Since then, about 1998, Scott said the department is down 16 positions overall.

“We’ve had to re-evaluate all the services we provide to improve our patrol function,” he said.

The biggest challenge after the budget and maintaining staff is dealing with the geographic challenge of the massive district. Or as Scott calls it: “The 1,900 square miles of earth that we patrol and are responsible for in Grays Harbor County.”

Close to 800 square miles of that territory represents the North Beach covered by the two deputies. The North Beach goes from Ocean Shores to the Jefferson County line north of Amanda Park, and south to Hoquiam and Grays Harbor City hills.

“That’s a big piece of country that they are responsible for,” Scott said. “It may be sparsely populated throughout most of the year. (But) in the summertime it becomes very densely populated when folks from King and Pierce county come down for a visit on the weekends.”

CALL STATISTICS

In 2012, the North Beach deputies handled 2,623 calls for service. So far in the first month of 2013, they have had 184 calls for service.

“They are as busy if not busier than any deputy sheriff out there,” Scott said. They do get support from the drug task force or investigations on major crimes, but Scott said they are responsible for taking the calls, providing enforcement and doing their own follow-up, working a case all the way up to prosecution.

“They are the traffic enforcement, the patrol response, the detective division, they do it all,” Scott said. They also contribute to search and rescue.

“They are a very valuable resource for our department, not only for the work they do but for the relationships they have built in the communities,” Scott added. “These guys just aren’t deputy sheriffs enforcing the law. They are a vital part of the community outside of work as well.”