WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release today, Friday, March 11th, detailing reported struggles with staffing while the crime rate is increasing.
The press release in its entirety follows.
Historically, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) has attracted high-quality applicants for Deputy positions who chose to remain with the agency for their entire careers. This high retention rate resulted in Deputies with a well-developed understanding of the community they served, and strong connections to neighborhoods, farms and cities that they patrolled. Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in an unprecedented situation; facing staffing challenges while unincorporated Whatcom County’s crime rates increase.
We are not unique; the demand for law enforcement officers is continuing to rise across the nation. A recent poll by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) showed a 45% increase in the retirement rate and an almost 20% increase in resignations in 2020-2021 compared to 2019. (NPR 06/24/21 Special Series Criminal Justice Collaborative) The WCSO recently had three Deputies resign, two leaving to join agencies in different states.
Filling these vacant positions is a high priority, but at the same time, it is imperative that we maintain the high standards we have relied upon over the years and hire the most qualified applicants. The hiring process for law enforcement is, on its own, challenging. In addition to the recruitment of high-quality applicants, there are delays inherent to the selection and training process. The selection process includes polygraph examinations, thorough background investigations and psychological evaluations. Newly hired deputies are required to undergo pre-academy orientation, an 18-week state-mandated Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) and finally a 12-week in-field training program before being ready for solo patrol.
Insufficient State funding for BLEA and academy classes has resulted in backlogs, leading to even longer delays in getting fully trained Deputies on the road. While the situation is improving somewhat, there remains a 3-to-4-month delay to have recruits attend BLEA.
To meet basic 24/7 patrol response coverage, some deputies have been temporarily moved from specialty positions to basic patrol. Again, WCSO is not alone in this move. Recently, agencies throughout Washington including other local law enforcement have had to do the same. Provided we can find qualified candidates, these vacant WCSO specialty positions are scheduled to be filled later this year. Those positions include a property crime investigator, neighborhood and resident deputy positions, as well as several traffic deputies.
It is interesting to note that since the enactment of statewide police reform legislation and staffing losses, crime rates have risen in unincorporated Whatcom County. Following are some statistics of reported crimes from the last six months compared to the previous six months (data queried on 2/16/22). This data mirrors the trends that are being seen throughout the state.
A critical part of our agency is our Corrections Bureau. It is also seeing challenges in both available space and the need for additional Corrections Deputies. In January 2021, isolation and quarantine needs due to a COVID outbreak at the jail’s Work Center made 140 beds unavailable. Significant booking restrictions were immediately implemented to help control the number of new offenders entering the jail system. The court system and attorneys were asked to re-evaluate those in custody to determine which lower-risk offenders could be more safely released into the community. Since this time, a significant number of those released have re-offended. Another factor that has affected the jail population is the large number of seriously mentally ill offenders who are booked on serious, violent, felony offenses. The backlog to get these individuals moved through the system takes months.
The jail is also seeing upticks in violent offenses being booked by all agencies. In 2021 overall, there were significant increases in offenses such as:
* Violation of Protection/Restraining or Domestic Violence Order increased 36%
* Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer increased 127%
* Malicious Mischief up 20%
* Resisting Arrest increased by 24%
Booking restrictions, delays on the mental health competency restoration system, court closures, limited court proceedings, and the need to reserve jail beds for offenders who are COVID positive or have been exposed to COVID, continue to limit jail space and has led to some people who otherwise would be held in custody for serious crimes being released and re-arrested for new offenses.
Despite these challenges, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office remains dedicated to making Whatcom County the safest in the state through excellence in public safety.Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office press release (March 11, 2022)