The two candidates for Island County sheriff agree low staffing is one of the department’s biggest challenges, but propose different solutions and strategies moving forward.
Deputy Lane Campbell said during a Freeland Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday that his first priority as sheriff would be to crack down on drug dealers.
“Drug dealers are on the rise in Island County,” Campbell said. “If we don’t get a handle on it, we’re going to be in some big trouble.”
His solution is to put more deputies on the road and he also suggested a support system for people who are released from jail but are still struggling with addiction to reduce recidivism. To pay for more deputies, Campbell proposed working with the county commissioners to increase the department’s funding.
Campbell also suggested the sheriff’s office is “heavy on the up side,” and he would eliminate positions higher up as people retire so he can hire more deputies in the patrol division.
Chief Criminal Deputy Rick Felici disagreed with the notion the department is top heavy.
Felici said the sheriff’s office in Island County has fewer upper-level positions than other sheriff departments. For instance, there is no undersheriff in the county, a position that the department once filled.
“There’s not a lot of fat to be trimmed from the top,” he said.
Felici said the county could benefit from more detectives in the precinct, especially to address narcotics.
Though Felici said he also thinks there needs to be more money and personnel in the department, he said he is unconvinced by Campbell’s proposal.
“Simply asking the commissioners for money is what we’ve always done,” he said. “And if we keep doing that, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten, which is nothing.”
He said he’s in the process of changing some positions in the jail into civilian positions to reduce costs and said additional sources of revenue need to be identified.
His vision for the department, other than increasing staffing, is to improve communication with the public. He said the role members of the sheriff’s office have to fill is less “law enforcement” now and more “public safety.”
Felici said increased and improved training needs to reflect this shift.
“I’ve completely changed my perspective,” Felici said.
Both candidates also agree the jail made significant improvements since an investigation was completed after the death of a mentally ill inmate from dehydration in 2015. The candidates said the jail is now running smoothly and offered suggestions for minor changes to improve its operation.
Campbell said he wants to “bridge the gap” between the jail administrators and jailers and increase communication between staff.
Felici said the jail is one of the best in the state, but it isn’t big enough.
He said county officials are addressing this in discussions about the county’s facilities master plan, in which additional beds for the jail are proposed as part of a restructure of offices.
Campbell said his 27 years with the department and 37 total years of experience qualify him to replace retiring Sheriff Mark Brown in November.
“I absolutely have a firm grasp on the heartbeat of my community,” he said. “… You are my boss. I never want to forget where I came from and who I serve.”
Felici said he has an understanding of the community that comes with his 24 years in the sheriff’s office.
Additionally, Felici said he has the benefit of having experience in leadership positions within the department and knowledge of investigations and corrections to give him a more “aerial perspective.”