January 18, 2018

Archives for April 2011

WCSO Special Response Team

A call to 911 informing the dispatcher about a hostage situation results in a quick response from Patrol deputies. These circumstances are also likely to trigger a request for assistance from the Special Response Team (SRT). The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team was established in 2005 to support the extraordinary enforcement needs of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and the citizens they serve.  The primary goal of SRT is to safely resolve high risk/crisis situations while minimizing the potential for injury or loss of life.

At one time the emergency responses for the County were made by the City of Bellingham’s SWAT team. To decrease response time and eliminate the charges to the County and smaller cities, the Sheriff’s Office developed its own enhanced response capabilities. The members of SRT are all deputy sheriffs and participate on the team as a collateral duty to their regular assignments. SRT members serve on a voluntary basis and receive no additional compensation. Members carry their equipment with them at all times, allowing them to respond directly to the scene once a request for SRT has been made. This maximizes the efficient and effective deployment of needed resources.

The SRT is comprised of a highly trained group of dedicated professionals. The team has two specialized components: a tactical element and a negotiation element. Both elements work jointly to safely resolve critical incidents.  The availability of a well-trained and properly equipped tactical team has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of injury or loss of life to citizens, law enforcement officers and suspects. Incidents where enhanced capabilities may be the preferred response include, but are not limited to: high-risk warrant service and arrests, barricaded subjects, hostage situations, counter-terrorism response, active shooter incidents and any unusual occurrences within the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.

Emphasis is placed on operational proficiency and physical fitness. SRT members train monthly to ensure that they maintain their skills and abilities. Members must pass and maintain a high level of physical fitness in order to withstand the rigors of tactical operations. The training includes firearms qualification, physical fitness, defensive tactics, less-lethal options, crisis negotiations, hostage rescue, active shooter response, rural patrol tactics and tracking.

The team is equipped with specialized firearms and equipment to enhance the safety and security of a mission.  The team has armored vehicles available for its use if needed, as well as air support from the Department of Homeland Security.

The Special Response Team has been highly successful in resolving high risk incidents through the use of negotiations and sound tactics.  SRT members assigned to regular patrol duties have handled many crisis situations before they escalated to the point of a full team call-out.  In May of 2010, SRT members were able to negotiate the surrender of a homicide suspect and safely take him into custody.  This was a very volatile situation that was resolved due to the skill and professionalism of both negotiators and tactical personnel.

The team is highly regarded by other tactical organizations and personnel, for their professional abilities and dedication to their mission.  The citizens of Whatcom County can be proud of their team and safe in knowing that the dedicated men and women of SRT stand ready day or night to answer the call to duty.


Drug Arrest – Intent to deliver Cocaine

On April 20th at approx 7:00 PM Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Kenneth J. FORD (DOB 3/1/1961) from White Rock BC after the vehicle he was driving was stopped following what appearred to be a drug transaction.  The vehicle was stopped north-bound on I-5 near Birch Bay Lynden Road, and was found to contain a suitcase with 16.2 lbs (7.3 Kilos) of suspected cocaine inside.  The cocaine tested positive upon field testing.

Deputies received information that the driver and vehicle had been at a local casino, and briefly met up with another vehicle. Agents with the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force observed the subject making what appeared to be a drug transaction.  No other persons were in the vehicle when it was stopped nor during the observed transaction involving the suitcase.

Sheriff Elfo Commented: “The Sheriff’s Office, Bellingham Police Department, State Patrol and the United States Department of Homeland Security, operating as the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force, have detected a significant increase in the incidence of cocaine trafficking in Whatcom County.  We are making an aggressive effort to show that this dangerous activity will not be tolerated in our community.”

Funding for Federal Border Impacts

By Sheriff Bill Elfo

Whatcom County reaps many economic, cultural and social benefits from its proximity to the Canadian border.  However, the presence of the international border presents unique challenges to law enforcement and the rest of our criminal justice system.

In two separate incidents in March, sheriffs’ deputies seized over 140 lbs. of cocaine on I-5 that was destined for Canada.  The Sheriff’s Office arrests over 50 wanted fugitives a year at or near the border. Others wanted for murder, kidnapping and weapons violations were apprehended while trying to flee into Canada.  Last year, a warehouse full of sophisticated weaponry was seized by deputies and federal law enforcement from a storage facility in Ferndale that resulted in the arrest of an international arms trafficker. Terrorists have also been captured in our community as evidenced by the arrest of Abu Mezer in Blaine, who conspired to bomb the New York City subway system.

Federal officials routinely defer the prosecution of criminals apprehended by federal law enforcement to the local criminal justice system.   For years, local taxpayers have bourn the expense of arresting, jailing, prosecuting and often defending these criminals.  The only other choice is to turn these offenders  loose in our community and create a haven for criminal activity.

The Sheriff’s Office is further challenged to protect critical infrastructure that  includes two major oil refineries, a large aluminum smelter, two major dams providing hydro-electricity, a major railway link between the U.S. and Canada and propane/butane storage facilities.  The presence of a commercial airport and 90 miles of border in a 2150 square mile county raise vulnerabilities and the need for adequate law enforcement capabilities.

In 2007, I testified before a committee of the United States House of Representatives on Homeland Security on the need for federal assistance in developing systems to enhance communications and information sharing among local, state and federal authorities as well as costs associated with arresting, prosecuting and defending offenders whose crimes have a nexus with the border.  County Executive Kremen, County Prosecutor McEachran and our federal Congressional delegation  were helpful in acquiring some of the needed resources to allow incremental progress.

However, continued funding for the coordination center has not been appropriated. Funding to pay the costs of federal impacts at the northern border appear to be in jeopardy. Representative Rick Larsen recently addressed this issue in a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano: “Your decision to completely eliminate this funding stream is especially concerning given the recent GAO report (see Report at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-97 )highlighting security issues along the Northern Border and legislation passed in the previous Congress that mandated enhanced cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement.”

It is essential that our community maintain a professional and well-coordinated local, state and federal response to border-crime and terrorism and continue with the progress that has been made towards enhancing communications and information sharing. The Sheriff’s Office performs a critical function in keeping the border areas safe. It cannot do this without the necessary resources.

Introducing Contraband Into the Jail

On March 22, 2011 corrections deputies discovered that an exterior glass window of a second floor cell at the Whatcom County Jail had been broken and that a line made of bed sheets had been fashioned to introduce contraband into the facility.  It was later learned that tobacco and marijuana were introduced into the facility through the broken window.

Following an extensive two-week investigation, deputies learned that inmate Daniel Faix (3-14-85) of Paradise Way near Ferndale had conspired with his girlfriend, Stephanie Wheatley (5-29-87) of East Douglas Avenue in Bellingham and brother, Nicholas Faix (11-11-89) of Paradise Way near Ferndale and Jeremy Smathers (6-23-77) of Racine Street in Bellingham (a former inmate) to introduce contraband into the facility.

Further investigation revealed that the window was most likely broken by an inmate dismantling and being able to use part of the failing jail infrastructure as a tool to break the glass.  The structural integrity of the Main Jail has been compromised three times in the past year resulting in inmates being able to break out what are supposed to be impact resistant glass windows.

The Faix brothers and Jeremy Smathers were charged with conspiracy to commit malicious mischief and introducing contraband into a corrections facility (Nicholas and Daniel arrested April 5th Jeremy arrested April 6th).  Wheatly was charged with conspiracy to deliver marijuana and delivery of marijuana (arreste April 7th).  All four were booked into the County Jail.  At the time of the incident, Daniel Faix was awaiting transfer to the State Prison for Theft 2nd, where he was sentenced to serve 14 months of confinement.

The Sheriff’s Office has been seeking to replace the facility as well as interim measures to better secure the windows and cells in the existing Main Jail. County Executive Pete Kremen instructed the County’s Facilities and Maintenance Department, which is responsible for performing maintenance at the Jail,  to respond to the Sheriff Elfo’s request to rapidly implement a number of  structural  and perimeter modifications that will reduce the likelihood of inmates breaking windows and contraband being smuggled into the facility.  While operating with very limited jail staffing, the Sheriff’s Office has implemented operational changes to more frequently conduct “cell searches and lockdowns,” monitoring and enhance safety procedures.

Sheriff Elfo said: “The structural and physical integrity of the jail reached critical stages years ago.  In this instance, inmates smuggled in tobacco and drugs.  It could have just as easily have been weapons.  Our nightmare scenario is for corrections deputies to encounter armed inmates who have taken over the facility. We have requested that recommendations to better secure the jail windows and perimeter be implemented immediately.”


Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies Make Another Massive Drug Seizure

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputies took a big bite out of the cocaine trade following a traffic stop on Interstate 5. On March 29, 2011, deputies stopped a Silver Honda Civic near exit 257 driven by a 38-year old Ferndale resident. In the trunk of the vehicle deputies uncovered approximately 32 kilos of cocaine (about 70 pounds) worth an estimated $800,000. The female driver was detained, identified and released pending further investigation. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is investigating.  This incident was not reported earlier so as not to jeopardize the DEA’s investigation of the matter.

Sheriff Elfo said: “Drug trafficking is a dangerous business that brings with it the risk of violence.  This is the second time in two months deputies have seized large quantities of cocaine being trafficked through Whatcom County on the I-5 drug corridor during traffic stops.”

On March 4th, deputies arrested a Surrey man with trafficking in over 72 pounds of cocaine on I-5 in Bellingham.


Alternatives to Incarceration

Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Jones and Sheriff Bill Elfo

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office operates one of the most robust jail alternative programs in the State.  These programs incorporate aspects of restorative justice and provide offenders with the opportunity to develop work skills and habits, maintain their jobs, continue to support their families, and serve their sentence in a less restrictive manner without exposure to some of the more hardened criminals who are housed at the main jail.  These programs also lower incarceration costs and require offenders to contribute to the cost of their participation.

Electronic Home Detention (EHD):  Offenders allowed to serve sentences on EHD are monitored through an electronic bracelet that is worn on their ankles.  Offenders in this program are generally confined to their homes but are allowed to go to work, school or treatment.  Candidates for EHD must be granted permission by the sentencing judge to participate in the program and meet Sheriff’s Office standards for participation.  Offenders are required to pay for the cost of this program.

Work Release/School Release:  Offenders in this program are housed in the Jail Work Center but are allowed to leave for work or school.  To participate in this program, offenders must be granted permission by the sentencing judge and meet legal and Sheriff’s Office standards for participation.  Offenders are required to pay a percentage of their gross income to cover the cost of their incarceration and supervision.  Offenders who attend school are required to pay a flat fee.

Out of Custody Work Crews: Out-of-Custody work crews live in their homes, but report to the Jail Work Center 5 days a week to work on a variety of projects. Most projects involve work in the County’s Parks System. Offenders assigned to this program are frequently working off fines they cannot pay.  This eliminates the old practice of “pay or stay” where offenders remain jailed if they could not pay fines.

In Custody Work Crews: In Custody work crews are housed at the Jail Work Center and work a 40 hour week.  We currently have 7 in-custody work crews that perform a variety of tasks such as litter pick up along County roads and state highways, maintenance of the lawns and landscaping on all County buildings, trail and campsite maintenance in the Mt. Baker National Forest lands, stream and salmon habitat restoration, and a small jail industry program of propagating and selling native plants, the profits of which go into the County General Fund.

The Sheriff’s Office contracts with a variety of governmental and non-profit entities to provide labor, which generates revenues that help off-set the cost of the crews.  It is estimated that the crew will generate approximately $500,000 in revenue for 2011 that will help off-set the cost of their incarceration.  The Sheriff’s Office also makes the crews available to help with community projects at no charge.  This has include the building of Million Smiles Park in Lynden, the moving of the Opportunity Council offices, annual clean up at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds, and the annual clean up of the area used by the Relay for Life walk in downtown Bellingham and in Birch Bay after the Fourth of July.  In return for working, the crew members are given additional time off of their sentences.

Arson Results in Serious Injury

From Sheriff Bill Elfo:

At approximately 2138 hours, deputies received a report of a residential structure fire at #5 Black Bear Court in Sudden Valley. Resident Kenneth Roger McMullen told deputies  that he intentionally set the fire to his residence in an attempt to commit suicide.

He stated that he believed that his mother died today at a nursing home.  McMullen indicated that he first tried to start his bedroom on fire and was unsuccessful. He then successfully used the gas stove to set fire to several areas in the house.  McMullen subsequently changed his mind and went outside to seek help from the neighbors.

When firefighters arrived, they could see flames and smoke coming from the residence and took almost an hour to completely put out the fire.

McMullen was taken to the hospital with burns on his legs, groin, back and face. He was then transferred to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center burn unit with burns over 50% of his body.

McMullen’s mother is not deceased.

The Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case.  McMullen has not yet been arrested for arson due to his current medical condition.

Links: Status of mental health programs http://wp.me/p1qxP1-38


Arrest Made In Animal Cruelty Case

On 3-2-11 the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and the Humane Society responded to the 3000 block of North Shore Rd in response to a report of animal cruelty.

During the investigation, Deputies located a 7 month old male Bloodhound named “Bear” with duct tape covering his head.  The tape started at the neck and went all around the head of the dog covering the ears, eyes, face, and muzzle. The dog’s nostrils were not covered.  The dog was seized and is in the custody of the Whatcom County Humane Society.

Following an investigation, deputies presented evidence to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office who scheduled Scott Jager, age 25 North Shore Road, to be charged with Animal Cruelty. Jager purported to be the owner of the dog.

Sheriff Bill Elfo said: “It is not known why someone would deliberately treat a defenseless animal in such a cruel and inhumane manner.  The Sheriff’s Office and the Humane Society take animal cruelty cases seriously and work to hold offenders accountable before the law.  We are pleased that we were able to remove the dog from this environment and that the Humane Society is working to find him a new home.”

Case Information:

Case Number: 2011A-4008

Incident Type: Animal Cruelty

Issued By: Sheriff Bill Elfo

Information: (360) 676-6650

County Executive Requests Law and Justice Recommendations for New Jail

Sheriff Bill Elfo

By: Sheriff Bill Elfo

Whatcom County Executive Pete Kremen has asked the Whatcom County Law and Justice Council to examine issues relating to the location, design and size of a new jail “as soon as possible so that [the County] can move forward to meet the critical needs of the criminal justice system in Whatcom County.”

In his extensive request, the Executive further asked the Law and Justice Council “incorporate information presented at two public meetings held to deal with building a new jail”.  He also wants the Law and Justice Council to make recommendations on jail alternatives, jail diversion programs and the establishment of a fully functional mental health triage center.

After conferring with Council members and citizens, including those with the “Right Size Jail” group, Executive Kremen indicated that he will support a Resolution establishing a Jail Planning Committee within the Law and Justice Council.  This committee will include citizen members with expertise in architecture, commercial real estate and the construction of commercial projects.

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