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Guild irked by reluctance to add deputies
"Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff's Guild members are feeling a bit uneasy these days despite securing in October a long-awaited, three-year contract with Kitsap County.That's because guild president Craig Montgomery fears the Kitsap County Commissioners could strike down Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer's 2001 preliminary budget request for eight additional deputies.I meant what I said at the last commissioners' meeting when the guild contract was ratified, Montgomery said last week. Now that the Sheriff's Office has a competitive salary and benefit package, it's time to look at hiring more deputies.County Commissioner Chris Endresen has already publicly endorsed hiring eight additional deputies next year, all during her campaign for re-election. Endresen's fellow commissioners Tim Botkin and Charlotte Garrido, however, haven't yet decided, and won't until the budget is approved during a public hearing, already tentatively set for Dec. 4. Meanwhile, guild members remain anxious, although the County Commissioners over the last four years have hired an additional 19 deputies. Oft-repeated statistics still circulating throughout law-enforcement agencies across the state show the Kitsap Sheriff's Office is still lagging behind.Staffing levels within the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office are only at about half of the national standard, said Montgomery. The national standard, set at about .85 deputies per 1,000 capita, isn't an enforceable standard by any means, but it certainly sets a target for law enforcement agencies around the country.Besides, Kitsap County ranks last out of 39 counties in the state of Washington when it comes to deputy staffing levels, Montgomery said, and there doesn't seem to be any relief in sight.Not true, said County Commissioner Tim Botkin.The commissioners are very well aware of the statistics showing that Kitsap County is well below the state average in terms of staffing, said Botkin. Problem is, he said, the commissioners need to figure out this next month how eight additional deputies could be funded while fairly considering the overall budget as far as requests and revenue forecasts go. If accepted as is, the county could pay $350,000 for the eight deputies, their patrol cars, equipment and uniforms the first year. Every year thereafter, about as much could be spent on their salaries and benefits alone. County Administrator Malcolm Fleming recently told the commissioners, under one scenario, they could expect to allocate an additional $350,000 - that won't be replenished - for county programs every year for five years until budget problems begin cropping up. In other words, county commissioners could spend down the reserve fund.Filling the request for eight deputies could wipe out those funds completely, leaving no opportunity for additions in other county departments, Botkin said.Besides, hiring eight additional deputies now, could mean more than just $350,000 down the road. Botkin said twice that amount could be spent every year to include the projected expanded workloads of the Prosecutor's Office and court system if more deputies are hired.Botkin, though not necessarily committed, is currently leaning toward hiring four additional deputies and forming a task force to fight the influx of meth labs into the county. The task force, he said, could combine and streamline the efforts of several different departments, such as the courts, the Prosecutor's Office, the jail and the health district. I am hearing over and over again from the county's Law and Justice (committee) that the most significant issue is meth in this county and how to solve that issue, said Botkin, noting the task force concept came forward during Law and Justice committee discussions. The task force, focusing on one particular target that can eat away at deputies' time, could be revisited in another three years to review its efficacy, Botkin said.Botkin said he is still waiting to review information regarding response times from the north and south Sheriff's offices before settling on a decision.Garrido said she hasn't decided yet either because she, too, is still waiting further information from county officials. The commissioner said she wasn't ruling out hiring more deputies, but wanted to review the entire budget before arriving at a decision.Meanwhile, Montgomery said he wants to keep fresh in citizens' minds the need for more deputies. I just have to hope every day that no one calls in sick because, as it is, I don't hardly have anybody to cover the shifts now, said Montgomery, who is also in charge of some staff scheduling. That's real scary.During every shift, deputies, on average, respond to 15 calls for assistance, giving each patroller about one-half hour to follow up on each. That includes going to the scene, speaking with witnesses and filing appropriate paper work and deputies' reports.Sometimes there aren't enough deputies on patrol to assist, or back up one another, and Montgomery must ask for help from the city's police departments.Just this past Sunday, Montgomery said, one of his deputies received a domestic violence call from east Bremerton.DVs by nature can be extremely dangerous and are considered volatile situations, Montgomery said. It's a rare case indeed when an abuser agrees to go off to jail with a deputy.Point is, the responding deputy that day didn't have any immediate backup. The closest unit to Bremerton unit was located in Port Orchard, so Montgomery radioed Bremerton police to back up his deputy. BP officers readily complied but not before the original deputy had the scene under control.This true scenario leaves many what-if type questions unanswered, Montgomery said. What if the situation was particularly violent and the deputy or citizens involved got hurt before the Bremerton police could get there? What if the Bremerton police were already responding to another hot call and the Sheriff's deputy had to wait for assistance from the South Kitsap unit, leaving South Kitsap vulnerable during that time?The county, I believe, unless the commissioners make room for more deputies, is putting in danger the lives of citizens and their deputies, Montgomery said. I would think public safety is their No. 1 priority. "