Concerns over a growing homeless population, property theft and the loop of repeat offenders in and out of county jail dominated a Friday forum where candidates running for Island County Sheriff answered questions.
The group calling itself “Old Goats – Fully Informed Voters” invited candidates Rick Felici and Lane Campbell to its monthly luncheon at Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club.
Campbell and Felici, both long-time deputies, told voters why they’d be the best successor to Sheriff Mark Brown, who is retiring.
Chief Criminal Deputy Felici, second-in-command to Brown, emphasized his administrative experience, including the writing of budgets, management of employees and the oversight of training and hiring. Felici moved up the ranks of the Island County Sheriff’s Office over 24 years, starting as a patrol deputy.
In his current position as chief criminal deputy, he joked, “I’m not a criminal nor am I in charge of criminals. I have enforcement power over criminal matters.”
Felici said he envisioned having weekly meetings as sheriff at different precincts to hear concerns from his staff.
Tackling societal issues, Felici said, takes multiple efforts and agencies.
“There’s homelessness, the mentally ill, addiction and criminal issues out there,” he said. “All these problems have a separate set of solutions.”
Campbell, a patrol deputy on the north end of Whidbey, emphasized his daily interactions with the community and his first-hand knowledge of homeless camps, repeat drug offenders and the concerns of Oak Harbor downtown business owners.
“I’ve worked for five different sheriffs and two different police chiefs,” Campbell said. “I have 37 years’ experience. I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and I see what can be improved upon.”
Campbell has worked 27 years with Island County Sheriff’s Office and another 10 years in other law enforcement agencies.
Campbell described Island County Superior Court’s attempt to help drug addicts as ineffective. The adult drug court is a program that closely monitors participants who complete a treatment program and follow other requirements.
“It needs to be revamped,” he said. “We arrest people all the time on narcotics. There has to be the follow-up at the prosecutor’s office. And guess what? It’s ‘let’s make a deal’ time and they go to drug court. It’s a revolving door of drug offenses. It’s ridiculous.”
Felici responded that while some recycling of offenders occurs, “we have first-time offenders going to prison.”
When the candidates were asked if they intended to round up illegal immigrants, both replied that they didn’t see it as “a problem” local issue.
“We do not go out and actively seek those individuals,” Campbell said.
Felici added: “We only act on active warrants.”
Both candidates acknowledged there’s a shortage of deputies in the department. But it’s not a matter of money, they said, it’s a lack of applicants and the length of time it takes for training.
The recession layoffs of 2008 eventually led to a “buyer’s market” for those looking for a job in law enforcement, Felici explained.
“Also, there’s a backlog of academy classes,” he said.
County Commissioner Rick Hannold was one of 45 people seated around the candidates, listening in like all the others. When asked whether the county had restored the sheriff’s department funding from previous cuts, Hannold said all departments’ budgets have been restored.
Paying overtime for the extra hours deputies must work to overcome staffing shortages is necessary, both men said.
Fireworks and firearms were two other issues Felici and Campbell saw badge-to-badge. Asked about upholding the constitutional right to bear arms, both candidates said they had no intention of infringing on the Second Amendment.
“If you’re worried we’ll take away your guns in your sleep, well neither one of us will go there,” Felici said.
With Fourth of July just around the corner, they were also asked about enforcing the stricter ordinance regarding when fireworks can be discharged in Island County. Responding to all the calls received about noise and fireworks isn’t possible, both candidates said.
“Our call load triples, it goes up to 600 calls a day,” Campbell said of early July statistics. “I don’t know how six deputies handle that.”
Felici said law enforcement officers must prioritize emergency calls.
“We’re about overwhelmed by firework calls every year,” he said. “My personal opinion is they are not worth the trouble. A lot of these calls are going to go unanswered.”