Editorial: Deputy numbers about average

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley caused a stir during budget time when he requested 15 additional deputies, a pie-in-the-sky figure that would have increased his force of commissioned officers by nearly 40 percent.

The commissioners didn’t even meet him half way. In fact, the sheriff received zero new positions, and shortly later released a statement saying there’s no manpower for new initiatives, such as the protocols suggested by the Island County Meth Action Team, well-intentioned as they may be.

Hawley at least got the commissioners talking. The two most veteran commissioners, Mike Shelton and Mac McDowell, have different views. Shelton thinks a tax increase may be necessary to hire more deputies, while McDowell is unpersuaded that Hawley needs more help.

Figures from 2003 compiled by the Washington associations of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs show that Island County is only slightly below average in deputies per thousand population, compared to neighboring counties. The figure in Island County is 0.77 per thousand, compared to 0.83 in Skagit County, 0.77 in San Juan County, 1.20 in Snohomish County, and 0.52 in Jefferson County. The five-county average is 0.81 deputies per thousand.

When making comparisons it’s important to keep in mind that all counties are hurting for police protection, thanks to painful cuts resulting from Initiative 695 and reduced support from the state.

Hawley no doubt is correct that he needs more deputies to do the job that Island County residents need done. The question is, how many and how do we pay for it? Local voters are unlikely to increase sales or property taxes to hire more deputies unless a crisis is at hand, which is a fact Hawley should keep in mind next time he has to submit a budget request.

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