King County Sheriff Sue Rahr’s view of budget effects on areas like ours

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr called a last-minute “media availability” at midmorning today – not with enough notice for us to be here – but her office has sent a copy of her opening remarks, plus answered a followup question for us. First, here are her remarks, from the document KCSO provided:

Now that the King County budget for 2011 is finished, I wanted to take a moment and discuss what the ramifications will be for public safety in unincorporated King County.

First let me say I recognize this was another difficult budget year trying to cover a $60 million deficit, on top of similar deficits in years past.

The money in the general fund is limited, and therefore the money to support criminal justice in King County is limited. We realize and reluctantly accept that there is simply not enough money to maintain all the services I believe are important.

All the cuts in police services were difficult. 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.

But they were. In light of these reductions, my first priority for the Sheriff’s Office is to maintain emergency response. If you call 9-1-1 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.

My second priority is to preserve our response to crimes against persons….rapes, assaults, robberies, and homicides.

We will continue to actively and aggressively investigate those crimes.

As I’ve said before it is primarily the investigation of property crimes that will suffer. That means if you are the victim of a burglary, car prowl, theft, auto theft, fraud, and so on, we will have no detectives to conduct the follow-up investigation. Our citizens need to know this.

I hope to train our patrol deputies to take on the follow-up investigations of property crimes. 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.

But we will try.

I’m sure you’ve also heard that I’ll have to send School Resource Officers back to patrol, along with storefront deputies and detectives and deputies from several units from around the Sheriff’s Office including; Civil Unit, Marine Unit, Registered Sex Offenders, Homicide, and several others. We will have to end our participation in nearly every regional task force on terrorism and gangs.

All of these changes will mean our citizens receive less service from the Sheriff’s Office.

Essentially I’ve chosen to keep deputies assigned to units that can protect life over property.

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.

This is a rate of .65 officers-per-thousand, 2nd lowest in the entire state, and significantly lower than our two neighboring counties, Pierce and Snohomish.

Now you may have heard a council staffer earlier this week tell the King County Council that the rate is actually 1.37 and rising up to 1.5 officers-per-thousand by mid year. That number is wrong. To reach that rate, we would have to have 400 deputies patrolling unincorporated King County. I can assure you that is not the case. Not even close.

So why is this number important at all? Because it is an objective measure of the number of police officers serving a community. It allows comparisons from year to year and from one like agency to another.

If the number is not accurate it can give citizens a false sense of security and a false sense of the level of police protection they are receiving. It left the Council with the impression that we have twice the capacity that we actually have. It would be misleading and unethical to leave this very inaccurate number standing.

And now we come to the Guild contract. I wish the Guild had decided to give up at least part of their wage increase for 2011. It would have meant we could hire back some, if not all, of the deputies we will lay off.

But that is not my decision, and quite frankly there is nothing I can do about it. It’s the decision of the union leadership and their members. I still hold out hope there will be a vote and some portion of their raise next year can be used to save jobs.

Finally, let me close with a very real example of what these cuts will mean.

Two days ago our School Resource Officer at Thomas Jefferson High School had a distraught student come up to him and say that a student had a gun on school grounds. She told the SRO who that person was and who he was with.

The SRO put the school into lockdown and tracked the student and several of his friends to a spot nearby, but off school grounds. One was armed with a handgun and several rounds of ammunition.

The 16 year-old student said someone at school had given him the gun because another student planned on shooting the first student, and he wanted to protect himself.

A gun in the hands of a 16 year-old at a school was recovered because we had a deputy at that school that had developed a relationship with the students. Those SROs at schools in unincorporated King County are going away beginning in January.

As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in King County, I have an obligation to the citizens of King County to keep them safe. The dedicated men and women of the Sheriff’s Office intend to do that as we always have. 2011 will be a very trying year for many of us, and the citizens of unincorporated King County have to be ready for a reduced level or service. But we will do all can to keep them safe.

Regarding the White Center storefront, we asked the sheriff’s spokesperson, Sgt. John Urquhart, whether the facility itself would close, without a deputy (which has been its status for a while now). He said he didn’t expect that to happen, “since other county business takes place there.”


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