Who cares about deputies? Do you?
by Martha M. Ireland
The commissioners all turned out for Wally Davis's funeral. They featured his memorial on the Clallam County web page and stopped the courthouse clock for a month. Now they're turning deaf ears to Sheriff Joe Hawe's plea for more manpower.
At the 2001 budget hearing, a couple dozen citizens demanded extra spending to enforce land use laws. Only the sheriff and two deputies spoke up for more peace officers.
A smattering of letters to the editor says deputies are feeling "outraged," "abandoned and betrayed." And with cause.
This is nothing new. When I took office in 1996, I found a pervasive bias against sheriff's department funding at the highest levels of the courthouse. It was not a partisan issue. Apolitical Administrator Jim Rumpeltes, Democrat Commissioner Dorothy Duncan, and Republican Commissioner Phil Kitchel all shared the same position. Carole Boardman was slightly more sheriff-supportive than Duncan had been, but when Democrat Mike Doherty replaced Kitchel, he spouted the same lines on this topic as Kitchel had.
If Hawe wants anything new, the prevailing opinion holds, he should "find" the money within his own budget. Where? Let him do away with "fripperies" such as the D.A.R.E. program or give up his one political appointee undersheriff.
The sheriff's department gets the largest share of the county budget, they note, ignoring the fact that its share is 51 percent, compared to a statewide average of 62 percent.
For several years, Clallam budgets routinely began with the presumption that the number of deputies would be cut. One year, Boardman and I adopted a budget retaining all deputies on a two-to-one vote.
Hawe dared not ask for more deputies when he was fighting just to keep what he had. Last year, I managed to move those existing deputies' jobs off the chopping block, which opened the door for Hawe to ask for more deputies this year. Initially, he dared not. Then a deputy was killed--an obscenely high price to pay for the right to discuss a formerly taboo topic.
Clallam funds only two patrol deputies out of its road fund--far below average. It has one of the richest road funds in the state. Why
not use this ready cash to bring the county up to the bare minimum of one officer per 1,000 residents?
The commissioners vs. sheriff acrimony pre-dates Hawe and is not limited to the topic of staffing.
Within my first month in office, I became aware of jail medical services inadequacies. Then I learned I was the only policy-setter interested in addressing it. Early this year, jail medical became a crisis with the sheriff privately considering filing suit against the commissioners. Confronted by liability concerns, they slapped on a "Band-aid" and left it to fester.
To my observation, offender confinement issues were much more likely to get a positive reception if they were within Juvenile Services, which is under the direction of the commissioners, than within the adult jail, which is supervised by the sheriff.
In most counties, the sheriff chairs the Law and Justice Council. Here' a commissioner is co-chair. When I took over that position from Duncan, I was told it was set up that way so the commissioners could keep a tight rein on the sheriff. Instead, I operated a partnership. It appears that the former adversarial relationship is returning.
Considering Commissioner-elect Mike Chapman's law enforcement background, he may well be an ally of the sheriff's department. If so, he will likely be a lone voice, echoed only by a few deputies pleading for backup.
Clearly, law enforcement is a priority to the top leadership of Clallam County, and to the average local citizen, only in times of crisis--and then, very briefly.
Every contact I have had with Clallam County officers in the field has been laudable. Our deputies have earned our respect and support.
It is a shame that they do not get it.
Martha Ireland was a Clallam County commissioner from 1996-1999. She is a writer-editor by profession. She lives with her husband, Dale, and "critters" in the Carlsborg area. Her column appears every Friday in the Peninsula Daily News.