Meth pact draws signers

Nine Island County agencies agreed on a set of guidelines to follow for protecting children endangered by drug use. Representatives of those agencies gathered Thursday at the Law and Justice Center in Coupeville for the official signing.

The memorandum sets guidelines for dealing with children found at the sites of methamphetamine production or distribution. Representatives of multiple agencies, including the Island County Prosecutor’s Office, local law enforcement, Whidbey General Hospital, Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services signed on to the guidelines.

The document — the Island County Drug Endangered Children Protocol — is the culmination of a year of writing by the involved agencies, all of which are members of the Island County Meth Action Team.

“This is a celebration of the tremendous amount of work that went into the document,” said team chair Holly Jones on Thursday.

Jones said the team was making changes to the 10-page document as late as Wednesday afternoon. The document will be adopted by its signers on an annual basis and will be changed as needed.

The Meth Action Team formed 2 1/2 years ago and is funded by a $4,000 grant. As many as 40 agency representatives, including the signatories, and community volunteers contributed to the protocol.

Several items are still in process and have not been resolved to the satisfaction of at least one of the signatories.

In January 2005, Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley stated that he would not sign on to the first draft of the protocol because he felt its requirements are unrealistic. On Thursday he reversed his position and signed the protocol. He said he expects the Meth Action Team will be able to improve what he sees as the document’s weak points.

The document charges law enforcement personnel with collecting urine samples from children found at meth production sites, and decontaminating them at the scene. Hawley said it is impractical and costly to expect detectives on the scene of a methamphetamine arrest to take these actions.

“I don’t think they totally understand the role of law enforcement,” Hawley said during an interview following the signing event.

“Our mission is to focus on the safely of our officers and those people at the scene including children and suspects.”

He said he signed the protocol because he believes it has promise.

“It is a good, solid foundation for agencies involved in dealing with drug-endangered families,” Hawley said.

Jan Smith, spokeswoman for the ICSO said over the past 10 years, children have been found in homes of drug users and or sellers, but they have not been found in any location where meth was being manufactured.

The protocol is a voluntary document; agency signers cannot be penalized for failing to live up to its requirements.

Meth labs more common in Island County

Even though law enforcement has been raiding fewer and fewer meth production sites throughout the state for the past few years, Island County is seeing more of these incidents.

Fifteen meth labs and sites were reported in 2004 in Island County where meth was being produced.

Fourteen were reported in 2003, and five each in 2002 and 2001.

Island County is not alone. Statewide, 11 other counties saw an increase in meth lab discoveries in 2004. Twenty-four experienced a decrease, according to the state Department of Ecology.

Statewide, the number of meth labs reported dropped 9.6 percent in 2004, with a total of 1,337 labs and dump sites made found by law enforcement compared to 1,480 sites in 2003. This reversed a steady climb in statewide numbers that began in the 1990s and ended in 2001.

Sheriff Hawley said the main factors for the increase is the island’s rural environment.

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