Kremen: No cuts requested for sheriff’s office budget
By Tara Nelson
Birch Bay residents worried about possible Whatcom County Sheriff’s office staff cutbacks as a result of a countywide budget crisis can rest assured.
Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen said Tuesday he would retract a request that could have meant a reduction in staffing and a corresponding reduced level of service and police protection to Whatcom County communities such as Birch Bay.
Part of those cuts would likely have included the elimination of sheriff’s deputy Cliff Langley, of the department’s neighborhood deputy program. The program assigns a sheriff’s deputy to a fixed location and allows them to take a more proactive and preventative approach to law enforcement as opposed to a reactive approach.
“There will be no increases, which means they will have the same budget we had in 2008, but it also means no cuts,” said Kremen’s spokesperson Joe Bates. “It means the resident deputy program will not be considered as a possible cutback.”
Bates said while they didn’t have crime statistics for Birch Bay available since Langley begin his tenure in 2007, there was a substantial drop in crime in Kendall, an unincorporated area near Maple Falls, after Langley he worked as neighborhood deputy there in 2002.
“The neighborhood deputy program in Kendall has led to a significant drop in burglaries there – from 84 in 2006 to 58 in 2007,” he said. “That’s also down from a peak of more than 160 in the mid 1990s. This kind of a program had a dramatic effect in Kendall, and that will translate anywhere it goes, whether its in Birch Bay, Glenhaven or Sudden Valley.”
A proactive approach
Sheriff’s department spokesperson Jeff Parks said WCSO has maintained a resident deputy program since the 1960s, in which deputies are provided with housing within the community that they work. The neighborhood deputy program, however, was relatively new and created to service unincorporated areas in Whatcom County that demanded urban levels of service.
The department currently funds a neighborhood deputy program in Birch Bay as well as the communities of Sudden Valley and Glenhaven in south Whatcom County. Three resident deputies, or deputies who are also provided with housing, are also active, he said. Two are stationed in Point Roberts and another in Newhalem.
Parks, however, said while the neighborhood deputy program is advantageous in terms of cost-effectiveness and crime prevention, it is a relatively new program and therefore would most likely be considered for cuts in funding.
“Resident and neighborhood deputies develop contacts, get in touch with community, identify problems, work with crime prevention, and get to know the community on a more intimate basis,” he said. “It’s more of an approach of small town policing. Unfortunately, when budget cuts like these are proposed, it forces us to look at the services we just added, our basic needs, and it puts us back into being reactive rather than proactive.”
Elfo agreed the resident deputy program has been a huge success in the Birch Bay, Kendall and Sudden Valley neighborhoods, both in terms of crime prevention and traffic safety, as well as building relationships within the community. So when Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen’s office had asked the sheriff’s department to cut $441,000 out of the 2009/2010 budget, he opted not to do so.
“I think it would have been irresponsible and I just couldn’t do it in good conscience,” he said. “We really don’t have any fat in our budget at the sheriff’s office.”
The U.S. Department of Justice recommends one officer for every 1,000 people and with the current population between 3,000 and 4,000 residents, law enforcement in the community meets that standard only by a fraction.
Similarly, the Kendall area had historically been underserved by county law enforcement agencies and partly, as a result, has a history of drug-related problems including methamphetamine production, abandoned and blighted houses and property theft.
“We’ve seen a reverse in some of the horrific trends up there,” Elfo said.
Spencer Cope, a crime analyst for the sheriff’s department agreed. Cope said in 2002, almost 20 percent of all burglaries in the county were in that area. That number had dropped to about 10 percent in 2005.
“A 25 percent drop in crime is pretty good,” Cope said.
Elfo assigned deputy Langley to Birch Bay in May, 2007. Since, then he had received much positive feedback from residents as the community’s first resident sheriff’s deputy.
Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce president and Bay Café owner Tammy Pearce said she has seen the positive impact deputy Langley’s presence has had on the community.
“We love Cliff,” she said. “He’s part of our community, he makes appearances at the chamber meetings, he talks with the kids, he always wants to make sure people know he’s here and that’s he’s here for us. He’s our police officer.”
Kathy Berg, chair of the Birch Bay Steering Committee, said she had also been concerned about losing Langley as a neighborhood deputy and was relieved by Kremen’s decision. Berg said since he was stationed in Birch Bay in May 2007, she has noticed a reduction in speeding along Birch Bay Drive as well as reports of burglaries and car prowls.
“There has definitely been a presence here that wasn’t here before, and it kind of keeps a lid on things,” she said. “Before, because Birch Bay is a seasonal community, the bad guys know there wasn’t anyone here and, during the off-season, there were a lot of breaking and entering, car prowls and speeding.”
Berg, who also oversees the operations of the committee’s transportation and public safety implementation subcommittee, said police protection is a number one concern for many people in the community. The issue could also prove to be the tipping point in the debate over possible incorporation.
That particular committee was formed under Sheriff Dale Brandland’s administration in an attempt to let the department know about public safety issues in the community, she said, but that having deputy Langley’s presence has helped that effort immensely.
“He’s always there. You never know where he’s going to show up, whereas before you could almost count on law enforcement just not being around at all,” she said.