King County sheriff decries cuts to rural police service
November 18, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 3 p.m. Nov. 18, 2010
King County Sheriff Sue Rahr lamented the upcoming cuts to police service in rural areas, including the closure of a police storefront near Issaquah and reduced resources to investigate property crimes.
King County Council members decided Monday to eliminate 28 deputies from the King County Sheriff’s Office, close police storefronts, and eliminate school resource officers from Liberty High School and other campuses.
“All the cuts in police services were difficult,” Rahr said in prepared remarks delivered Thursday at the King County Courthouse. “All the cuts will mean a hardship for the 305,000 citizens living in unincorporated King County, especially if they are victims of a crime. I wish none of the cuts were made.”
The austerity measures came in response to a $60 million budget shortfall in the general fund. The entire county budget amounts to about $5 billion. The general fund — the account used for criminal justice services — comprises $621 million.
“In light of these reductions, my first priority for the sheriff’s office is to maintain emergency response,” Rahr said. “If you call 911 in 2011, it will not take longer for a sheriff’s deputy to arrive. If you need to be rescued from a flooding river or have a hiking accident, we will still have a team to respond.”
Under the budget, the number of property crimes investigators is to be reduced from 16 to two. Rahr said the office has a proposal to continue investigations of burglaries and other property crimes.
“I hope to train our patrol deputies to take on the follow-up investigations of property crimes,” she said. “But follow-up investigations can be complex and time intensive and often require coordination across many jurisdictions. It’s pretty unrealistic to expect that most deputies will be able to do this in between answering 911 calls.”
County Council members chided the King County Police Officers Guild for refusing to forgo a planned 5 percent raise next year. County Executive Dow Constantine asked unions representing county employees to forego cost-of-living raises for 2011. The police guild is the only holdout.
Union leaders responded to the criticism in a statement posted to the guild website.
“The economy was a major consideration for all sides at the bargaining table and throughout the ratification process,” the statement reads. “Our members know the effect this economy has had on the citizens we serve. We too have been affected. Many of our spouses and other family members have lost their jobs. Some of our deputies have lost their homes due to the economy. The monetary increases in this agreement have allowed our deputies to move from the low end of our market to the middle of our market in terms of wages.”
Rahr said she hopes the guild decides to discuss the planned wage increase.
“I wish the guild had decided to give up at least part of their wage increase for 2011,” she said. “It would have meant we could hire back some, if not all, of the deputies we will lay off.”
The budget cuts came after county voters rejected a sales tax hike to stave off the deepest cuts to the sheriff’s office and court system.
The electorate defeated Proposition 1 — a proposal to raise the sales tax rate to 2 cents per $10 purchase on the Nov. 2 ballot — by a double-digit margin. Officials hoped to use the $35 million next year generated through the hike to close the $60 million shortfall.
“The bottom line for the sheriff’s office is this draconian budget leaves 198 sheriff’s deputies and supervisors to serve the 305,000 people living in unincorporated King County,” Rahr said.