Sheriff: Cuts should not slow 911 response

November 23, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Deputies could be trained to investigate property crimes

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr lamented upcoming cuts to police service in unincorporated areas, but said emergency response should not be affected for rural residents.

King County Council members decided Nov. 15 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. The storefront in the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area between Issaquah and Renton is due to close under the plan.

“In light of these reductions, my first priority for the sheriff’s office is to maintain emergency response,” Rahr said in prepared remarks delivered Nov. 18 at the King County Courthouse. “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.”

The budget also reduced resources to investigate property crimes. 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.”

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.

“All the cuts in police services were difficult,” Rahr said. “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.”

County Council members chided the King County Police Officers Guild for refusing to forego 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 was the only holdout.

Union leaders responded to the criticism in a statement posted to the guild website not long before Rahr discussed the cuts.

“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 planned wage increase is part of a 27 percent raise spread across five years and approved under then-County Executive Ron Sims in 2008.

“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,” the police guild statement continues.

Rahr said she hopes union leaders and members decide to reconsider the scheduled pay raise.

“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.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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