Sheriff preaches a simple message: Call 911

"There’s nothing complicated about helping law enforcement on Whidbey Island -- just be alert and call 911.That was the message Sheriff Mike Hawley brought to an interested audience of about 40 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Clinton Thursday night.“If you see something going on, call 911,” Hawley advised. And it doesn’t have to be a major crime -- the same advice goes for such problems as drunks wandering the downtown streets, noisy parties, or speeders on the side roads hurrying to the ferry.“What I need is complaints,” Hawley said after several residents pointed out the problem of motorists speeding on Humphrey and Deer Lake roads. The complaints help pinpoint the problem times of the day, and then a deputy can be dispatched to patrol the area.Deputies don’t have any time to just sit alongside a road and wait. “Sometimes there’s only two on duty on all of Whidbey Island,” Hawley said, explaining how he deploys his 39 deputies (including himself) throughout Whidbey and Camano islands. “Most of the time we’re just running from one call to the next.” Deputies enforce traffic laws on their way to and from non-emergency calls, he said.But so many concerns were expressed over Humphrey and Deer Lake Road speeders that Hawley promised to get a deputy on it right away.Hawley expects the county to receive 20,000 911 calls this year, but he’s not complaining. His system is set up for people to call 911, he said. Non-emergency calls will be routed to a complaint line. “We need your eyes and ears. You know the kids who are bad,” he said.He wasn’t tarring the reputation of kids, just pointing out the fact that island County has the lowest major crime rate in the state. But in less serious crimes such as burglaries, drug and alcohol violations, Island County has its share of problems, and young people are often to blame.Hawley told the audience that his department’s goal is “to make you feel safe,” and that law enforcement considers drugs and traffic the major problems on the island.The sheriff is particularly concerned about methamphetamines and the ease at which “meth” can be manufactured in a simple kitchen. “It has five times the kick of coke at one-tenth the price,” he said.Meth is so cheap and available that even kids from traditionally good homes are involved. “In about 25 percent of the cases we say ‘hey, that’s a great looking home (environment)’, he said. “Parents are pulling their hair out.”In addition, meth is becoming more available to younger kids, such as 13-year-olds, who are more easily addicted. “Kids become addicted literally in a month or two,” he said.One woman described downtown Clinton as “drug central,” and said drug buys take place behind some storage lockers “all night long.” Again, Hawley recommended getting license numbers and descriptions, if possible, and calling 911.The same recommendation -- call 911 -- was made to a man who complained about ferry users parking along Columbia Beach Road near the stop light.Cell phone 911 calls differentYou can call 911 from your cell phone on Whidbey Island, but you probably won’t get the local dispatch center.From Clinton, for example, cell phone 911 calls go to Everett. And from the Ledgewood area north of Greenbank, they go to Victoria, B.C. “Mounties are very nice, but they don’t know where you are,” said Sheriff Mike Hawley.Other dispatch centers will route a call to Whidbey Island, but that takes time. So Hawley recommends that cell phone users program in the local number so they reach Island Countywide Emergency Dispatch directly.From South Whidbey, call 321-4400.Hawley said the 911 cell phone problem will be solved by technology that bounces calls off satellites and from there to the proper dispatch center. But that is expected to take five years to be widely available. "

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