New year, sheriff, off to busy start

With a murder and plane crash within the first two weeks of taking office, Rick Felici is off to a busy start as the new sheriff for Island County.

He said, however, he’s not going to allow events to divert him from his plans.

As he said during the campaign, Felici believes the department of 42 commissioned officers and a busy jail is not broken but has “good bones.” He said he has a great deal of respect for the team. As the saying goes, however, there’s always room for improvement.

He said he will focus on leadership development, modernization of practices and implementation of a clear vision.

“I’m looking at it more as a marathon than a sprint,” he said.

One of his first steps as the new sheriff was to appoint an administration, which consists of four people.

Evan Tingstad is the new chief criminal deputy, a position Felici held before becoming top dog.

It’s been a long and unusual path for Tingstad, who retired as a lieutenant in the South Whidbey precinct last year.

To say Tingstad has roots in the community and department is an understatement. Tingstad is a lifelong Coupeville resident. His father is a retired Coupeville Elementary teacher and his mother was a well-known accountant. His brother is a Grammy-award-winning musician.

Tingstad started as a reserve deputy in the sheriff’s department in 1982. He worked as a corrections officer and dispatcher in the jail before becoming a patrol deputy in 1985.

He’s been a detective, drug detective, the sergeant of patrol, detective sergeant, an inspector, and even chief criminal deputy previously.

Tingstad said he took a gamble in retiring but had hoped Felici would be the next sheriff. He explained that his leaving had a domino effect across the department, and he wanted that resolved before the new sheriff came to town.

He said he knew Felici would make a great sheriff and that they would make a great team.

“We agree on the big things and most of the small things,” he said.

Felici said Tingstad’s “corporate knowledge” will be valuable, as will his “competent, level-headed” leadership style.

The others in the new administration are the same as under Mark Brown, the previous sheriff. Jose Briones still runs the jail and Lorene Norris is chief administrative deputy.

Felici emphasized the importance of creating a mission statement with supporting core values to guide the department. He said it will be focused on such elements as professionalism, respect, accountability and fairness.

The sheriff plans to hold a meeting with all of his leadership staff, which includes lieutenants and sergeant from the three precincts. It will be the first time in a long time, he said, that they will all be in a room together.

One of the things they will discuss is a mission statement.

“I don’t think you can solve every problem by committee but investment is important,” he said.

The department is moving forward with a program to embed a social worker with a deputy to help people who have mental health issues. Felici said he’s open to other innovative programs and is interested in exploring other ways of dealing with people who suffer from mental health problems or drug addiction.

Felici has an obvious respect and fondness for law enforcement officers. He said much of what deputies do isn’t about enforcing the law but solving problems and helping people.

While deputies often deal with people in chaotic and emotional situations, complaints are rare.

“They do a pretty darn good job of doing the right thing the majority of the time,” he said.

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