Prosecutor, sheriff want more deputies for fighting crime

Budget talks begin next week

Next year’s spending plan is shaping up to be a “burnout” budget.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks and Sheriff Mark Brown are asking county commissioners to add staff to their departments so they can attack suffocating workloads.

Commissioners are scheduled to begin budget workshops on the 2008 budget starting Monday, Sept. 10 during the commissioners’ regular session.

The first workshop will cover the assessor, auditor, human resources, central services and planning department budgets.

Additional workshops are planned for each week through October. The final budget will be presented to commissioners on Nov. 5, with a public hearing tentatively planned for Dec. 3.

The total county budget is expected to total nearly $70 million in 2008. The total budget for this year is $68.4 million, while the 2006 budget was $69.6 million.

Commissioners will be pressed in the coming weeks to increase funding for the county’s law and justice efforts.

The prosecutor’s office has a top priority of adding another deputy prosecutor to cover district court cases in 2008.

Banks said bulging workloads means more workers are needed. District court covers misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor crimes, and those make up the county’s biggest number of court cases.

Banks said he wants to take action before the heavy workload takes a toll on his department.

“They’re not on the verge of leaving, but their caseloads are such that nobody could reasonably be expected to handle that for any sustained period,” Banks said.

When Banks sent his 2008 budget to commissioners late last month, he warned commissioners that the district court caseload could total 1,700 cases this year. And Banks was especially blunt in his budget memo to commissioners: “Per-attorney caseloads in district court are excessive and not sustainable.”

The Washington State Bar Association says defense attorneys should only handle about half that, 400 misdemeanors tops, Banks said.

With the caseload comes ever longer court days, and Banks said his deputies are burning out; the “grueling” court schedule leaves his prosecutors little time to work on new cases, haggle with defense lawyers or huddle wwith police.

Looking ahead to next year, the caseload looks like it will be even bigger than last month’s estimate.

“We’re getting clobbered,” he said.

“If it continues we could do 2,000, and you can’t handle that many cases,” Banks said.

A new district court deputy prosecutor is expected to earn $72,500 with benefits.

The county last added a deputy prosecutor in 2001, for the Civil Division.

Banks has also asked for $28,400 so a part-time legal secretary job can be reclassified as a full-time receptionist job to free up other paralegals to work on the increasing number of caseloads.

Criminal traffic offenses make up the lion’s share of district court cases, accowrding to statistics prepared by the prosecutor’s officce.

For the first time in years, driving with suspended license charges will outpace driving under the influence cases. Out of 1,492 cases in 2006, the county pursued nearly 375 suspended license cases, compared to roughly 350 DUI cases.

Felony cases are also up in 2007, and have more than doubled over the past decade. The county is expected to file more than 300 felony cases this year; the majority are drug and property crimes, many with links to the use of the illegal drug methamphetamine. Meth crimes still outpace all other felony drug cases combined.

The dramatic jump in misdeamenor cases is probably due to increased traffic enforcement, Banks said. He credited the sheriff and an energetic State Patrol detachment on Whidbey Island.

“He’s made it pretty clear that traffic enforcement is a big component of his public safety platform. I think that’s a good thing, but it drives the numbers up,” Banks said.

Indeed, the sheriff’s budget memo to commissioners underscores Brown’s focus on traffic violations.

Brown said his tougher stance on traffic enforcement will mean more than double the number of traffic stops made by county deputies. Last year, sheriff deputies stopped approximately 8,000 vehicles; this year, that number is expected to climb to nearly 16,000 cars.

The Island County Sheriff’s Office currently has 33 patrol deputies and five detectives.

Brown has told commissioners he wants to double the coverage on every shift in each precinct over the next seven year, and he needs to 13 more people to get there.

“As much as I owe an obligation to the public, I owe the people who work for me,” Brown said Tuesday.

As a start, Brown is requesting three new full-time deputies for 2008 so an additional detective can be added to both Camano and Whidbey islands.

Brown is also asking for two additional officers to help out in the county jail.

Right now, overtime is unavoidable, Brown told commissioners in his budget memo.

“The continued tempo of operations is beginning to take its toll on the officers,” Brown wrote.

Brown said this week he has seen it firsthand.

“I went out and worked this weekend,” Brown said. “Sometimes it important for administrators to put on their police hat and be out there and remember what it is like to wait for back-up.”

Brown said he intended to work for four hours, but stayed on duty for more than eight.

“I was literally going from call to call,” he added.

Brown explained that the staff increase is neccessary to keep up with the county’s growing population.

The sheriff’s office utilizes the Langley, Coupeville and Oak Harbor police departments, as well as the State Patrol, Brown said.

“But ultimately, we are responsible for unincorporated Island County,” he added.

It’s a similar story for the jail.

More people lead to more crimes that have to be processed through the system, leading to an overcrowded jail and not enough staff to handle the crowds.

“We had a couple of occasions this summer when we were maxed out,” Brown said. “And we needed the manpower to constantly check up on them.”

Officers at the jail are now working up to six days straight, and some are coming back to work to work after just five hours off-duty. Half of the officers are the jail are averaging 20 hours of overtime each paycheck.

Brown said it’s not about wanting extra staff, it’s about needing more personnel to catch up with the demand.

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