COUPEVILLE — Island County Sheriff Mark Brown plans to ask for more manpower.
The department has lost about 10 deputies in the past two years, he said. He was unable to replace those who retired or left for other reasons, including fears of layoffs.
In 2008, the department was authori
zed to have 43 deputies. It’s since lost nearly a quarter of its cops.
“The situation is pretty grim,” Brown said.
The department now is authorized to have 33 deputies, including the command staff and detectives, he said. That doesn’t include deputies who work in the jail, a separate division.
The sheriff’s office has 32 commissioned deputies and is looking to hire the 33rd, Brown said. Most deputies are assigned to precincts on Whidbey and Camano islands. They serve about 55,000 people in unincorporated Island County.
The sheriff’s department is one of the lightest staffed in the state, Brown said.
He hopes to fill the vacant spot with a lateral hire, meaning someone who’s already been through the police academy and can get into a squad car sooner.
Recruiting is difficult because neighboring agencies offer better pay and benefits, he said. Whomever they hire will come on knowing that future employment is uncertain.
Having fewer bodies virtually eliminated specialty assignments such as the traffic unit and narcotics division, he said. The sheriff himself is now coordinating the block watch groups.
Detectives are juggling too many cases, leaving lower-level crimes unsolved, he said. Sergeants and lieutenants are acting as entry-level deputies to fill patrol shifts.
The cuts have hurt morale and the quality of police work, he said. Officer burnout is a big concern.
The sheriff is supposed to submit a 2012 budget proposal by July 15. The separate jail budget isn’t in much better shape.
If he asks for more bodies, he will have to justify the need to the county, he said. He knows other departments are hurting too.
Island County commissioners recently received the preliminary revenue forecast for next year, commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.
Revenue is starting to stabilize but isn’t expected to go up anytime soon.
Historically, the county balanced the budget with interest earnings and sales tax revenue, primarily from the building industry, she said. Those two revenue streams dropped in recent years.
The county isn’t expecting significant layoffs in 2012, but all departments are looking skeletal, she said. Programs such as parks and senior services have taken deep cuts. The commissioners have tried to stave off similar cuts to public safety.
“Our challenge now is to find a way to meet basic needs,” she said. “We realize we have resized government to match the revenues, but it’s impacting service. That’s our challenge.”
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org