January 18, 2018

Sheriff Elfo’s Letter To Citizens Regarding Cooperation With DHS-ICE

March 30, 2017

Earlier this month I learned from the news media that Whatcom County, along with many other counties in Washington, is listed on a federal web-site as having “enacted policies which limit cooperation Immigration and Customs Enforcement” (ICE), a component agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is in the interest of public safety that the Sheriff’s Office cooperates with ICE to ensure an orderly transfer of criminal aliens to federal custody after the resolution of state charges. The Sheriff’s Office has a long history of doing just this. Whatcom County’s designation as “non-cooperative” does not reflect the practices we have adopted to ensure cooperation with ICE or a decision of a federal court within our 9th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that set forth constitutional requirements and limitations.

By way of background, ICE formerly issued “detainer requests” asking the Sheriff’s Office hold persons meeting federal criminal alien criteria for up to 24 hours beyond the time they were scheduled to be released from the county jail. A federal court within our 9th Federal Circuit (Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County April 2014) held that the practice of detaining criminal aliens on ICE issued detainer requests beyond the time of their scheduled release from the county jail on state charges without a warrant violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In this case, the Sheriff of Clackamas County Oregon and Clackamas County were held liable for facilitating an ICE detainer request. The federal government did not intervene in the lawsuit nor defend nor indemnify the County for damages or the cost of litigation.

Following the court decision, I consulted with the Whatcom Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. It was concluded that continuing the practice of honoring non-judicially issued detainer requests by holding persons beyond their scheduled release time would subject Whatcom County and our deputies to liability for civil rights violations. I responded to this decision and adjusted our policy to conform to the law. To the best of my knowledge, other sheriffs throughout the state have done the same.

From the perspective of cooperating with the component agencies of DHS with respect to their responsibilities for taking custody of “criminal aliens,” the Sheriff’s Office does fully cooperate. The term “criminal alien” is defined by United States Code and generally includes “any alien” who is convicted of a serious criminal offense. State law requires that I cooperate with ICE in ascertaining jail inmates’ citizenship and provide information regarding confinement and sentences. Federal agents regularly review the jail roster to identify criminal aliens committed to the county jail.

To ensure public safety and legal requirements, I consulted with DHS component agencies immediately after the 2014 court decision. The Sheriff’s Office and local agents agreed on a workable solution. I agreed to detain persons at the request of federal authorities if the federal agency presents a warrant. As inmates charged with serious offenses are usually held in jail for some time, there should generally be time for agents to obtain a warrant as required by the federal court. Federal authorities can also arrange to be within the secure area of the jail at the time of the person’s scheduled release and take the person into custody as he or she prepares to leave the facility. The Sheriff’s Office further cooperates by providing notification of release times to federal agents so an orderly transfer of custody can occur. With the number and availability of federal agents assigned to Whatcom County, this has not presented any logistical issues within our jurisdiction and all requested transfers have taken place.

The Sheriff’s Office works very closely with DHS on a daily basis on criminal matters and locally maintains an excellent working relationship with our federal partners. Federal agents and the Sheriff’s deputies often have overlapping jurisdiction on a wide range of criminal offenses that violate both state and federal law. Deputies and agents work closely and collaboratively on these matters. Federal agents are assigned to the Whatcom Gang and Drug Task Force and have been instrumental in disrupting criminal gangs, drug trafficking organizations, sophisticated criminal enterprises and arresting habitual felons that deal in crime and violence. This cooperative relationship also facilitates coordination in suspected cases of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

Cooperation with DHS and its component agencies should not be confused with civil or administrative aspects of immigration enforcement. Deputies lack the legal authority to enforce federal civil and administrative statutes. Deputies do not stop, contact, detain or interrogate any persons solely for the purpose of ascertaining that person’s immigration status and do not prolong any detentions longer than necessary to complete normal processes in connection with a criminal or traffic violation. This is embodied in practices and is consistent with a 2013 Washington State court decision (Ramirez-Rangel v. Kitsap County).

Last week, I requested the regional ICE “Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations” in Seattle to explain Whatcom County’s listing. After researching the matter, the acting director of the office advised me that his agents reported that the Sheriff’s Office has been fully cooperative and it appeared that the County should not have been listed as “non-cooperative.” He further explained that the decisions on county designations are made at the agency’s national headquarters in the District of Columbia on the basis of newspaper articles that followed the court decision. The acting director agreed to work to assist us in being removed from the “non-cooperating” list. However, he further indicated that many counties across the country were also voicing objections and that the issue may take some time to resolve.

I was not contacted by anyone from ICE prior to the Sheriff’s Office being included on the “non-cooperative” list. Whatcom County is not a sanctuary for criminal aliens and the Sheriff’ Office fully cooperates with ICE on the transfer of criminal aliens to the extent permitted by law. I can only conclude that the decision was made within the realm of a large bureaucracy that chose not to review the relationships, policies and practices that exist within our community to ensure public safety and cooperation or the Constitution as interpreted by a federal judge, which I took an oath to uphold.

Late on Tuesday (March 29th) I received notice from ICE that effective Sunday (April 2nd) their entire process for requesting the transfer of criminal aliens to federal custody is being revised as to scope and procedure. The new policy does not provide for the presentation of warrants but rather insists that Sheriffs accept revised detainer request forms. There was no prior discussion with Sheriffs on this process. There Prosecuting Attorney Dave McEachran is reviewing these federal changes and will provide me with advice that will help ensure adherence to the requirements of the Constitution. I will continue to work closely with ICE to effectuate public safety and the requirements of the law.

Bill Elfo, Sheriff

Sheriff Elfo’s Editorial on Recent Implementation of Booking Restrictions at Whatcom County Jail

As Sheriff, I am responsible for operating the Jail in a safe and humane manner that meets constitutional and other legal standards. Failures of critical infrastructure; unreliable life-safety systems; and an increasing number of violent and often dangerously mentally ill offenders have endangered our staff and those housed within the jail. The lack of space to appropriately house and treat those with medical and behavioral health issues compounds risks.

The situation remains serious. Inmates continue to dismantle the deteriorating building and assault staff and other inmates. Injuries to deputies attacked by inmates include spinal cord injuries, head injuries, joint dislocations and exposure to biological hazards transmitted by human bites, throwing feces and sticks by hypodermic needles.

Given conditions, County Executive Louws and I notified all cities that contracts for jail services would not be renewed under the same conditions upon expiration at the end of 2015. It was necessary that future contracts stipulate the cities’ use of county jail services be reduced to help bring the jail population to safer levels and allow the County to meet its statutory obligations.
Under Washington law, cities are responsible for jailing all persons detained or sentenced on misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor crimes initiated by their police departments. Counties are responsible for jailing all charged with felony crimes regardless of what agency initiated charges and those who are sentenced for felony crimes to less than a year in jail. Counties are further responsible for all arrests initiated by state law enforcement agencies; detaining fugitives from justice; and holding certain offenders on various forms of supervision by the State Department of Corrections. Pursuant to an Attorney General’s opinion, counties cannot implement restrictions that limit the state’s ability to book prisoners.

To ensure our community did not return to the booking restrictions that a decade ago prevented law enforcement from booking misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offenders into jail, I committed to working with cities to help ensure public safety and avoid restrictions. Offers were made to all cities for contracts that would continue to facilitate booking all persons arrested by officers until their first appearance in court. I further offered to hold those offenders not released at their initial appearance until they could be transferred to another jail facility elsewhere in the state. I offered flexibility and to work cooperatively with all jurisdictions to ensure a safe, orderly and timely transfer.

All cities except Bellingham agreed to this arrangement. Bellingham articulated a need and desire to continue to detain those not released following their first court appearance. This need was solidified when the Municipal Judge issued an order prohibiting the City from transferring pre-trial offenders outside of Whatcom County. To meet its needs, Bellingham proposed that the County retain the right to impose booking restrictions if needed to control the jail population.

This resulted in two contractual options that were offered to all cities. Cities electing “option 1” were guaranteed the ability to book into jail anyone they deemed necessary but agreed to transfer them in a timely manner when the jail reached capacity. Cities selecting “option 2” agreed to accept booking restrictions, if needed, to control the jail population but retained the ability to detain people in jail awaiting trial. Bellingham selected “option 2” – all other cities selected “option 1.” Even for “option 2,” we continue to try and accommodate arrests for DUI, domestic violence and assault charges beyond threshold restrictions.

All jurisdictions agreed to maintain contracts with other jails so as officers always have the ability, albeit inconvenient, to book, house and transfer inmates when the Whatcom County Jail is full. Over the past week, various forms of releases, transfers and booking restrictions were intermittently imposed as a means to control the population of the downtown jail. All cities have worked on various plans to and reduced the need for jail space. The Sheriff’s Office is maximizing the use of the Jail Work Center for appropriately classified offenders. However, this is a minimum security facility with very limited medical or mental health services and not everyone arrested qualifies to be housed there. The Sheriff’s Office continues to make extensive use of field citations and other means to initiate charges that do not involve placing someone in jail. The Superior and District Courts were requested in January to consider conditions within the jail and public safety needs when deciding whether to order defendants held in the facility.

The Sheriff’s Office notifies all jurisdictions of the population of the downtown jail on a weekly and often more frequent basis. The capacity of the facility is 212. The week before restrictions were implemented, the population had reached 243.

Bellingham is a major user of jail services. A check of records reflects that on the day prior to restrictions being implemented, 330 persons held in the jail system (including the jail work center), 110 had charges that were initiated by the City of Bellingham (not including felony crimes). Many offenders are held on charges from multiple jurisdictions.

Transferring and transporting inmates to out of area facilities is highly inconvenient for officers, courts, attorneys, and the families of inmates. No one desires this. However given conditions, this is currently the only option available. As Sheriff, I will continue to work with all jurisdictions to try and mitigate impacts while maximizing safety within the jail.

Bill Elfo, Sheriff

Sheriff Elfo’s Latest Statement on the Jail

Whatcom County is obligated to operate its County jail system in a safe, humane and constitutional manner. Today, it is often nearly impossible to meet those required conditions. We are constantly overcrowded and our jail is continually challenged by failing infrastructure along with serious problems with our life-safety and security systems. These requirements are also not possible to meet with the lack of space for mental and medical health evaluation, treatment and special housing needs. With no options for remedying this situation on the horizon, it is necessary to reduce and limit the inmate population of the jail.
Whatcom County is legally responsible for housing those charged, sentenced or otherwise ordered held in custody by the District and Superior Courts as well as those booked by law enforcement agencies on charges answerable in these courts. This includes those persons charged or sentenced on felony charges (including those made by city police officers) and those wanted in other counties and states.
City and Native American governments are legally responsible for housing those persons charged with misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors in their respective jurisdictions. For many years the County provided jail services, including alternatives to incarceration, for these governments through an inter-local agreement that expired last year.
To ensure a balance between proper jail safety, providing the infrastructure needed for the effective administration of justice and ensuring the safety of the community, we want to continue to accept and book those persons arrested or ordered incarcerated by municipal and tribal courts on misdemeanor charges. When maximum capacity is reached in the jail, jurisdictions using the jail will be asked to arrange for the removal of their offenders from the facility. This will normally involve a timely and orderly transfer of inmates not released by judges on their own recognizance or bail. It is my intent to do all that is reasonably possible to avoid “booking restrictions”. These restrictions which were in affect a decade ago, precluded Law Enforcement officers from jailing misdemeanor offenders including those arrested on charges such as driving under the influence, assault, theft, or ordered arrested by judges through the issuance of arrest warrants.
The Sheriff’s Office has been working with local user jurisdictions to coordinate and identify solutions including using jail space in other parts of the State. Surplus modern jail space with robust behavioral health, treatment and medical facilities is available near Seattle. Since the Sheriff’s Office operates a regional inmate transportation network, this network remains available to provide regular transportation. Other governments are finding solutions they feel work best for their community. As an example, Bellingham will begin providing pre-trial supervision to reduce jail incarceration needs and is sending some offenders to a jail in Yakima. I have asked the City of Bellingham to consider de-criminalizing portions of its legal code, which in the past has resulted in their using, limited jail spaces for such charges as sleeping on the sidewalk, garbage violations and other violations of its code. The Lummi Nation is transferring inmates serving multi-year consecutive sentences to other tribally operated facilities. The Nooksack Tribe also found a tribal jail to meet their needs. The smaller cities are in the process of selecting and contracting with other jails.
To free up jail space to meet the needs of local jurisdictions, the Sheriff’s Office is working with the State Department of Corrections to wind down our practice of providing short-term jail space for those persons in our community, who violate the conditions of their release from state prisons. Our office is also continuing to maximize the use of jail alternative programming including work crews, work release and electronic home monitoring.
I am also working with the County Executive to determine what structural and system changes might be made in the jail to strengthen the structure, improve life-safety as well as provide increased space for mental and medical health services. While these changes are likely very expensive, this will provide elected officials with a cost-benefit analysis to compare the wisdom of spending funds on the existing facility or moving forward with a plan to replace the jail.
The Sheriff’s Office is also participating in the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force. For decades, law enforcement leaders and the mental health community have advocated for preventing incarceration through community-based treatment prior to crimes being committed and for a fully-functional behavioral health triage center as an alternative to jail. I’m pleased the Task Force is working on recommendations towards that goal and other changes to the justice system that may reduce future jail space needs.
While taking action that will result in inmates being removed from their community and families is not ideal, neither is leaving them in our County jail which has been reported by architects, engineers, multiple citizen committees, fire officials and the National Institute of Corrections warning as posing serious threats to human life. As Sheriff I will work closely with other officials to minimize disruption and ensure as smooth a transition as possible in reaching a safer and humane jail for our community.

Bill Elfo, Sheriff

Citizens, experts developed plan for new Whatcom County Jail

Guest Editorial, Civic Agenda, Bellingham Herald, June 14, 2015 by Sheriff Bill Elfo

The need to replace the overcrowded and unsafe Whatcom County Jail has persisted for decades. Over time, conditions have grown increasingly worse. Eighteen years of reports, findings and analysis by professional consultants, jail planners, engineers, fire safety officials, staff, the National Institute of Corrections and multiple citizen committees consistently highlighted compelling life-safety and liability issues. Also highlighted were the lack of space for behavioral health and other programming targeted at effective treatment and reducing recidivism. Given severe and unsustainable conditions within the jail that jeopardize staff, visitors and inmates alike, as well as expose taxpayers to liability, the county cannot continue to operate the facility into the future at current population levels or without spending millions more on interim repairs and remodeling.

In 2011, the County Council tasked a 13-member jail planning task force with recommending the size, location and programming needed to replace the main jail. Members were appointed by former County Executive Kremen and confirmed by Council. Citizen and government leaders with expertise in corrections, mental health, rehabilitation, law enforcement, finance, architecture, construction, business and labor, as well as citizens with experience in environmental, land use and neighborhood issues served on the task force. The task force held 16 public meetings, solicited community input and received comments from citizens and stakeholders throughout the criminal justice and behavioral health systems. It received professional assistance from the National Institute of Corrections and other experts. A very transparent process was followed. All agendas, minutes and reports were published on the county’s website, and the press was notified of all meetings.

In 2013, the task force presented its unanimous findings to County Council reporting: “due to overcrowding, life/safety and physical plant concerns in the main jail facility, Whatcom County needs a new jail.” It described the need as “critical.” This echoed findings tendered by other citizen committees tasked to examine jail issues in 1999-2000, 2004 and 2008.

Consistent with professional recommendations, the task force concluded that the “jail should operate at 80 percent to 85 percent of its design capacity and have capacity for 500-700 inmates.” It further recommended that the county retain an experienced jail planner to conduct a needs assessment and refine capacity projections. The current jail system averages a daily population of 404 and has held up to 470 offenders. Operating at nearly twice its designed capacity of 148 inmates, the main jail offers little flexibility to meet fluctuating security and special housing needs. A nationally recognized jail-planning firm was retained and recommended a consolidated replacement jail of 649 beds.

Optimism over the potential success of treatment and diversion options resulted in a 521-bed jail proposal. At 85 percent capacity, this will provide a net system increase of 38 beds. Capacity would be 25 percent lower than the maximum range recommended by the task force, 20 percent lower than the recommendation of the jail-planner, and reflects 27 percent less beds-per-population than the planned Skagit County Jail. Future jail needs will continue to be influenced by decisions of the Legislature transferring responsibility for felony sentences from state prisons to county jails. It would be imprudent to build a smaller jail if the county is going to continue to provide jail services for all cities and tribes.

County Executive Jack Louws developed a proposal to replace the jail and implement the task force’s recommendations. As recommended, the County Council approved the purchase of a centrally located site near I-5, reasonably close to the courthouse and sufficiently sized to accommodate long-term growth, if needed. The site selection was unanimously endorsed by the County Police Chiefs’ Association. Modern design features will maximize operational efficiencies and help control expenses.

The proposal includes 8,000 square feet of space to house those with severe behavioral and other health issues. Additional medical, counseling and classroom space will facilitate education, literacy, substance abuse, life-skills and other training and treatment programs.

The law requires Whatcom County to house all persons charged with felony crimes and for all misdemeanor arrests generated by the sheriff’s office and state law enforcement agencies. It is also required to detain all fugitives wanted in other states. The cities are responsible for housing misdemeanor arrests generated by their police. Under a cooperative agreement, Whatcom County operates the only jail system in the county and since 1984, has housed offenders on charges generated by all cities and tribes.

The county executive developed and presented a plan to the cities to construct the 521-bed replacement jail with a 2/10s of 1 percent sales-tax (20 cents on $100 purchase). Over the past 10 months, the plan was extensively vetted, negotiated and adjusted to meet the cities’ needs and requests. A proposal to replace the jail, retain a unified jail system and assist the cities with jail expenses resulted. As tribes do not remit sales-tax, provisions will allow them to contribute to capital construction costs and maintain their option to use jail space. The mayors of all small cities and their respective councils overwhelmingly approved the proposal.

The County Council also authorized a diversion and treatment task force to recommend strategies for reducing future jail needs. Whatcom County operates some of the most robust and successful jail-alternative and diversion programs in Washington. Many successes can be expanded that include improving the effectiveness of jail and community-based mental health services; re-entry services for those released from incarceration; intensive treatment and supervision of pre-trial and convicted offenders; expanded drug courts; new mental health courts; and providing mental health counselors for every school district. Approximately $4 million is spent annually on these programs and $3 million dollars is set aside to fund a new crisis-stabilization center. These programs will be most effective if the county continues its jail partnership with the cities and tribes.

For the jail proposal to move forward for approval by voters in November, the Bellingham City Council will need to approve the plan and the Whatcom County Council will need to authorize placing the proposal before voters.

As Sheriff, I have a legal and moral obligation to operate the jail in a safe, constitutional and humane manner. The result of not replacing the main jail or incurring more years of delay will require investing millions more to stabilize and remodel the structurally flawed and inadequate facility. It will also require that the jail population be lowered, affecting the county’s ability to continue meeting the jail needs of cities and tribes and will likely lead to a fragmented system of providing jail services in our community.

I join our local prosecuting attorney, public defender, all superior court and district court judges and the county executive in urging that necessary and timely action be taken to replace the jail.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/opinion/article23893555.html#storylink=cpy

Sheriff’s Office Issues Awards to Employees and Citizens for Significant Actions and Contributions

NEWS RELEASE 05/15/2015 3:40:32 PM
(360) 676-6650 (360) 384-5360 Recorded Press Line (360) 676-6707 ext. 56397
Bill Elfo, Sheriff

The month of May marks National Police Week and National Corrections Officer and Employees’ Week.

On May 8th, Deputy James Chatfield was honored at the Washington State Police Memorial in Olympia. Deputy Chatfield died on July 29, 1921 after being shot by suspected smugglers near Blaine. His death had been lost to the institutional memory of the Sheriff’s Office and was only discovered in 2013 through the work of a historian. Deputy Chatfield’s two great-grandsons attended the ceremony. Deputy Chatfield joins Deputy Matt Herzog, who was killed in the line of duty on September 13, 2001, in being recognized on the memorial.


Iphone pic 017

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Washington State and National Memorials

The Sheriff’s Office held its Awards Recognition Ceremony on May 12th and also honored Sergeant Larry Flynn who will retire at the end of the month with 35 years of service. Sheriff Elfo also presented a proclamation to honor Police and Corrections Weeks to the County Council on May 12th.

Sheriff’s Office Awards Issued:

Unit Citation
The Sheriff’s Unit Citation is awarded by the Sheriff to an entire unit whose members perform their assigned duties in an unusually effective manner.

The Sheriff’s Office Crisis Response Unit is especially trained to defuse volatile situations involving those in mental health crisis. Members of the Team are recruited from both the Bureau of Law Enforcement and the Bureau of Corrections. During 2014, the Team successfully resolved several situations including persuading a suicidal man not to jump from an I-5 overpass on to the Freeway; persuading a suicidal and possibly homicidal man who had called 9-1-1 to request that a deputy to respond so he could kill the deputy or the deputy could kill him- in this case, the suspect had armed himself with a hammer and a large knife and was standing in the middle of the roadway; and persuaded a mother to surrender after she had barricaded herself in a home with her son who attempted to kill deputies.

Crisis Response Team Members:
Sergeant Beth Larson
Sergeant Kevin Mede
Deputy Chris Freeman
Deputy Pete Stevenson
Deputy Lonnie Baumann
Deputy Steve Roff
Deputy Randy Winter
Deputy Julie Baker

Sheriff’s Lifesaving Award
The Lifesaving Award is awarded by the Sheriff to members who personally save a life.

Deputy Joe Anders

Deputy Joe Anders was monitoring Fire Dispatch during April 2013, and heard medics call being dispatched to Kelly Road. The only information available was that a woman called 911 hysterically crying, that her husband had collapsed, and she was doing CPR on him. Deputy Anders was not dispatched to the call but decided to respond. Deputy Anders arrived to find the wife improperly attempting CPR. Deputy Anders took over and properly administered CPR until medics arrived. The man, Francisco Rodriguez, was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital. Deputy Anders drove Jessica Rodriguez to the hospital to be by her husband’s side. Francisco made a full recovery. If it weren’t for Deputy Anders’ willingness to go out of his way to respond to a fire call and help a stranger, this young husband and father would have died from a previously undiagnosed arrhythmia problem and the resulting heart

Deputy Chad Heinrich

On January 29, 2015, Deputy Heinrich was working his assigned patrol area. He overheard a Fire District being dispatched to a capsized vessel in the Nooksack River near Nugent’s Corner. It was reported that two boaters were in the water and unaccounted for. Deputy Heinrich responded to the boat launch. He observed that the Fire Department was still conducting their pre-launch checks and believed that time was of the essence. Deputy Heinrich observed a citizen, Patrick Mills, pulling his boat from the river and he asked Mr. Mills if he could pilot his boat with Deputy Heinrich aboard to try and locate and rescue the victims. The victim’s core body temperature had dropped significantly and having lost control of voluntary muscle movement, it is very plausible that he could have slipped off the snag and drown in the river at any moment. Deputy Heinrich’s quick thinking and utilization of unorthodox resources; a private citizen’s boat, prevented delay which likely saved the victim’s life.

Corrections Personnel:

On January 13, 2015 an inmate in the Whatcom County Jail attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet. Deputy Nick Ellis quickly discovered the attempted suicide and summoned assistance. Deputy David Kimball lifted the suicidal man to relieve pressure on his neck and later helped remove the noose from the inmate’s neck. Deputy Chris Freeman, assisted by inmates, helped untie the knot that was secured to a rail. Deputy James Hayes helped lower the inmate to the floor while maintaining control of his cervical spine to prevent injuries. While later guarding the inmate at the hospital, Deputy Hayes convinced him to accept mental health assistance as an alternative to suicide. These deputies’ quick and competent actions prevented the suspect’s death.

Deputy Nick Ellis
Deputy David Kimball
Deputy James Hayes
Deputy Chris Freeman

Bureau Chief’s Commendation Certificate (for actions taken during the January 13, 2015 incident)
The Bureau Chief’s Commendation Certificate is awarded by Bureau Chiefs to those members who, through their own efforts, perform their jobs in a high quality and professional manner.

Deputy Jason Waite
Deputy Landon Marshall
Nurse Abby Aubert
Nurse Brady Hillman

Meritorious Service Award:
The Meritorious Service Award is awarded by the Sheriff to members who whose actions are well in excess of the performance of their duties and have a significant, positive impact in the lives of members of the public.

On November 16, 2014 deputies were summoned to a residence in rural Whatcom County where a convicted and wanted felon was intimidating neighbors by firing a weapon near the property line. When deputies arrived, the suspect pointed the weapon at them and retreated into a building and barricaded himself inside. During the course of this incident, the suspect strategically staged firearms at multiple points in the home. The suspect later opened fire and shot at the deputies multiple times resulting in one deputy being shot in the face. The suspect refused to surrender. Following a volley of shots fired at deputies, the deputies returned fire killing the suspect. Throughout this incident, the deputies relied on their training and deployed good tactics and courage to protect neighbors and each other.

Deputy Brent Wagenaar
Deputy DJ Osborn
Ferndale Officer Justin Pike
Deputy Courtney Polinder
Deputy Damon Bruland
Deputy Jason Nyhus
Deputy Brian Oswalt
Deputy Jason Gum
Deputy Jim Perez
Deputy Rodger Funk
Sergeant Kevin Moyes
Lieutenant Scott Rossmiller

Distinguished Service Cross
The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded by the Sheriff to members who distinguish themselves by demonstrating exceptional bravery despite a known or unknown imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death.

Deputy Bill Roosma
Deputy Magnus Gervol
Deputy Tony Paz
Deputy Todd Damon
Deputy James Triplett
Deputy Austin Streubel
Deputy Erik Francis
Deputy Jarren Van Loo
Deputy Ryan Rathbun
Deputy Mark Jilk

Bureau Chief’s Commendation Certificate

The Bureau Chief’s Commendation Certificate is awarded by Bureau Chiefs to those members who, through their own efforts, perform their jobs in a high quality and professional manner.

On Christmas Eve 2014, Deputy Vandermay and Kimball discovered and interrupted a suicide by hanging in which an inmate had attempted to hang himself with his clothing. The deputies rescued the inmate before he was seriously harmed.

Deputy David Kimball
Deputy Ben Vandermay

Deputy Reis was recognized for taking the initiative to implement strategies to improve the environment and the jail work center to include organizing the painting of the cell areas; improving security procedures and morale.

Deputy Mark Reis

Deputy Turner was recognized for his efforts to improve order, security and safety by taking the initiative and using his talents to build a rapport with inmates; hold them accountable for institutional misbehavior and reduce issues with inmate rule and increase offender accountability.

Deputy Rich Turner

The Distinguished Citizenship Award Patrick Mills

The Distinguished Citizenship Award is s awarded by the Sheriff to any citizen who provides significant assistance to a Sheriff’s Office member or supports Sheriff’s Office missions in a significant way
On January 29, 2015 Deputy Heinrich recognized an urgent need to rescue a man who was clinging on to life in the Nooksack River. Patrick Mills agreed to use his private vessel and pilot Deputy Heinrich to the drowning man and help effectuate a successful rescue.

On January 13, 2015 two inmates in the Whatcom County Jail assisted deputies with rescuing a fellow inmate who had attempted to hang himself with a bed sheet. The inmates specifically assisted the deputies with loosening the knot securing the bed sheet to a rail.

The Distinguished Citizenship Award is s awarded by the Sheriff to any citizen who provides significant assistance to a Sheriff’s Office member or supports Sheriff’s Office missions in a significant way
The inmates did not attend the ceremony and their names are withheld to protect their privacy.

Sheriff Elfo’s Letter to Whatcom County Council for April 14th 2015 Hearing on New Jail

April 9, 2015

Dear Members of the Whatcom County Council:

The purpose of this communication is to provide you with information I wish you to consider in conjunction with the public hearing entitled on the agenda as “comment on the proposal for a new Whatcom County Jail and offer specific ideas for jail diversion programs” scheduled for April 14th, 2015.

I previously testified before Council and provided written information regarding the conditions within the Whatcom County Jail and Sheriff’s Office headquarters. As Sheriff, I am responsible for operating the Jail in a safe, constitutional and humane manner. I am also responsible for our dedicated and professional jail staff that put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of Whatcom County; the many contracted service providers who work in the Jail; and those who visit the facility.

We have a desperate need to replace the failing Whatcom County Jail. I join the Whatcom County Public Defender, the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney, all four Whatcom County Superior Court Judges, both Whatcom County District Court Judges and the County Executive in emphasizing the critical state we are in and the urgency of moving forward. While it is ultimately the County Council’s responsibility to determine whether or not the Jail will be replaced and the timetable for doing so, the consequences of not moving forward will place Whatcom County and other jurisdictions that use the Jail in a precarious position. I fully understand the complexity of this decision given the costs and the need for concurrence under the plan presented by the County Executive requiring concurrence of seven mayors and city council bodies. However the cost of delaying or ignoring this issue indefinitely will be higher.

Given significant concerns regarding the structural integrity of the building; the constant failure of critical operating systems; reports from the United States Department of Justice National Institute of Corrections and the Bellingham Fire Department that raised the specter of a “catastrophic loss of life,” in the event of fire or other calamity; a report by the Jail Planning Task Force identifying a “critical” need to replace the jail citing “life-safety” issues; and our consistent exceeding of rated jail capacity by substantial margins, I have serious reservations about our ability to continue to maintain legal, safety and health standards. Long before my initial appointment as Sheriff in 2003, published standards for correctional facilities that included physical plant criteria for space, plumbing and infrastructure requirements were suspended because of “overcrowded conditions.” The deviation from these standards has only grown worse.

The extent and nature of the problem are not new and were identified in the 1990s by the “Blue Ribbon Committee on Criminal Justice.” A 2003 Bellingham Herald editorial referenced: “jail overcrowding and its consequences have been apparent for at least six years [1997]…because local law makers have been unable or unwilling to find ways to pay for new facilities.” In 2008, the Whatcom County Law and Justice Council reported on progress on a 2000 Law and Justice Report recommendation that identified a need to build a new jail and stated “[T[he Law and Justice Council puts building a new main jail as soon as possible as its highest priority recommendation.” The report went on to discuss the need to expand secure adult jail facilities and noted that the then new work center was expected to be filled primarily with misdemeanant commitments for jail time due to the lack of jail space and noted that its impact on the main jail and would be minimal. It emphasized the County’s plan to move ahead with a larger expandable facility to meet the county’s need for fifty years and anticipated that the project would take five to eight years.

The Sheriff’s Office established one of the highest standards for the recruitment and selection of Corrections Deputies. We do not experience misconduct issues involving inmate abuse that are described in articles from around the country that were sent to Council. Our Corrections deputies have made huge concessions to keep the facility functioning. However, in part due to conditions within the facility, we are finding it challenging to attract and retain our high-quality personnel. This has resulted in workplace safety issues and deputies constantly being summoned back to work for mandatory overtime. If we are going to maintain the degree of professionalism that now exists, the jail issue needs to be resolved and working conditions improved.

The main Jail facility opened in 1984. Over the years jail population levels were significantly impacted by a variety of factors including legislative mandates relating to sentences for driving under the influence and related offenses; mandatory arrest and incarceration for domestic violence offenses; and a series of changes to sentencing laws that transferred responsibility for convicted felons from the State Department of Corrections to County Jails.

For example, in this Legislative session, 2SHB1884 proposed to convert sentences for several serious crimes from state prison to county jail sentences and once again, did not provide any of the operational or capital funding needed to effectuate this change.

3rd time Auto Theft 17-22 months state prison Possible 60 days county jail
3rd time Burglary 2nd 12-16 months state prison Possible 30 days county jail
3rd time Identity Theft 12-14 months state prison Possible 30 days County Jail

Local ordinances criminalizing various behaviors often result in arrests for either the crime committed or in arrest warrants for failing to appear in court for the alleged violation of the ordinance. For example, while Bellingham police officers exercise good discretion, they have no choice but to arrest a person wanted on a warrant for failure to appear or when there is a threat or a continual issue of public disorder. Below is a list of 2014 bookings into the Whatcom County Jail on charges of violating various provisions of the Bellingham Municipal Code.

Bellingham Municipal Code Violations Number of Offenses Booked into Whatcom (does not include violations of RCW) County Jail
Person under 21 <40 grams of marijuana 10.08.020A = 2 Unlawful Inhalation 10.080.030 = 2 Shoplifting Less than $50 goods 10.12.020 = 175 Disorderly Conduct/Abusive Language 10.24.010.A = 6 Disorderly Conduct/Disrupt Lawful Assembly 10.24.010D = 1 Disorderly Conduct / Cause/Engage/Provoke Fight 10.24.010D = 19 Disorderly Conduct/Disturbing the Peace = 11 Urinating in Public 10.24.020 = 15 Sitting or Lying on Public Sidewalks 10.24.070 = 15 Obstructing 10.24.100 = 61 Discharging Firearms 10.30.010 = 1 Stun Guns/Tasers 10.30.020 = 4 Animal Cruelty 7.16.010 = 2 Parks Restricted Area 8.04.130 = 4 Garbage Violation 9.12.080 = 19 Rodent Control 9.28.060 = 1 During the 1990s and early 2000s, space designated for storage, education and treatment were converted to hold inmates and additional beds were installed in cells and showers. The bottom line is that the facility, originally designed to hold 148 inmates with mixed security and classification ratings, has held up to 321. As most low-risk sentenced offenders are now housed at the Jail Work Center, the population of the Main Jail consists mostly of higher risk offenders; those who are dangerously mentally ill; and those who may not for a variety of circumstances be diverted. 8 inmates in cell

Eight inmates housed in a cell originally designed as a shower room and converted to hold two inmates

Our County Jail system is the only jail system in Whatcom County and since opening, has booked and detained offenders on charges and sentences generated by all municipalities, tribes, state agencies and the courts. We are also required by law to detain all fugitives from justice wanted in other states. County Executive Louws recent presentation to Council highlighted the division of jail beds and bookings by the responsible entity and presented a plan that includes continuing to provide jail space for the cities and other entities to incarcerate their misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenders.

Structural failures have raised grave security concerns. Inmates have been able to push out windows and drop lines to the street below to introduce contraband into the facility; manipulate locks to open cell doors; and gain access to adjoining cells by removing grout between the cinder block walls. Public health and the control of contagious disease within the facility is a major problem given that a large segment of the population does not exercise good hygiene or health practices and are detained closely together in small cells. Our staff has contracted some of these contagious diseases that include Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Aggravating matters further is a constantly failing plumbing system that results in toilets backing up; sewage pipes leaking and a frequent lack of hot water for hand washing, showering and general sanitation. In 2013, the Jail experienced an increase in its water usage by 1 million gallons. This continued into 2014. The County Facilities Department has not definitively determined the reason for this dramatic increase but believes the issue is attributable to an antiquated and overused plumbing system and its manipulation by inmates. The County Facilities staff does its best to address these issues but problems constantly recur and remediation is expensive.

While the electronic control system was recently replaced through a retrofit, failures posing security risks continue. I recently gave a tour of the facility to a group of citizens when a cell door opened without any prompting from staff. Many of these deficiencies in the physical structure and operating systems are likely the result of decades of use far beyond their designed purpose.

Questions arose about diverting offenders from jail and the issue of bail for those housed within the jail. Law enforcement only has the discretion to book a person into jail for up to 24 hours on either probable cause to believe a crime has been committed or in their execution of an arrest warrant commanding them to take a named person into custody. Within 24 hours, the incarcerated person will generally appear before a judge who will render a decision on release conditions. While I do not purport to speak for the ten separate courts that adjudicate issues related to inmates within our jail, these decisions are made on the basis of existing law and court rules. Many offenders are released on their own recognizance after first appearance.

Specific questions were raised about the appropriateness of bail as a condition of release. Rules for setting bail are promulgated by the Washington State Supreme Court and contained in Criminal Court Rules (Superior Court) and the Criminal Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (District and Municipal Court). The Rules state that there is a presumption in the law that a person charged with a non-capital crime shall be entitled to release pending trial on their personal recognizance. The court may impose a number of conditions of release, including bail, if it makes a finding that such recognizance will not assure the accused’s appearance; there is a likely danger that the accuse will commit a violent crime; or that the accused will seek to intimidate witnesses or unlawfully interfere with the administration of justice. The court may require bail only if no less restrictive condition or combination of conditions would reasonable assure the safety of the community; prevent witness intimidation or the administration of justice. In setting a bond, the court is required to consider the accused’s financial resources. During 2014, 58% of the people who are booked into the Whatcom County Jail are released within 3 days and 64.6% are released within 7 days.

The court is also responsible for sentencing and consistent with the requirements of the law, determine if and for how long a person will remain incarcerated in the jail.

As Sheriff, I formerly had the authority to release sentenced inmates when the jail reached critical peaks. The courts ordered a halt to this practice and the Sheriff does not have the authority to unilaterally release sentenced offenders as a mechanism to control the jail population. While judges are attuned to the problem and are very cooperative in helping control the jail population crisis, they must follow the law in making their release decisions.

Sheriff’s deputies and most other law enforcement officers make extensive use of field citations as an alternative to booking misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenders who are charged with relatively minor crimes not involving an imminent threat to public safety. In 2014, Whatcom County deputy sheriffs alone cited and released 566 misdemeanor/gross misdemeanor offenders without booking them into jail. Jail staff also has the ability to “book and release” misdemeanor/gross misdemeanor offenders with a field citation to help free up jail space and move appropriate offenders out of custody. Law enforcement may not unilaterally release a suspect if there is an outstanding arrest warrant. Most domestic violence and order violations and cases involving Driving Under the Influence (DUI) also mandate booking. In many instances law enforcement officers refer cases (felony and misdemeanor) directly to the appropriate prosecutor’s office for a decision as to whether charges will be filed. In these cases, offenders are often issued a summons to appear in court rather than physically arrested and booked into jail.
Many offenders are diverted from Jail due to the efforts of Whatcom County District Court Probation which supervises over 2,000 pre-trial and convicted misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor offenders.

I previously provided Council with an extensive review and information on the Sheriff’s Office internal jail alternative programs that provide appropriately classified offenders alternatives to incarceration in the main jail. Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office operates one of the most robust jail alternative programs in Washington State maximizing the use of electronic home monitoring; electronic home detention; and out of custody and in-custody work crews to the extent these programs are consistent with public safety and the advice we receive from the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office regarding the law and liability. These programs often enable offenders to maintain employment and continue their education while serving their sentence. For others, the programs help instill the habits and skills needed to gain employment. In essence, every sentenced offender who meets appropriate security classifications is eligible to participate.

At present, there are approximately 300 offenders who are required to serve court-imposed jail sentences (e.g. DUI) that the Sheriff’s Office has not been able to accept into the facility due to the lack of space. These offenders make arrangements to commence serving their sentences to move on with their lives. However upon reporting to Jail, we all too often have to turn them away as the jail population has swelled and there is no space available.

There have been questions about mental illness, addiction and the use of jail space. America is experiencing a disturbing and increasing trend in the number of offenders housed in its county jails that suffer from severe, persistent and often dangerous forms of mental illness and addiction disorders. The Whatcom County Jail is no exception. While most people with mental illness do not commit crime, certain types of mental illness and addictions ultimately lead to crime and incarceration. The severity of crimes varies greatly, but range from offenses against public order and property to those involving extremely serious and violent offenses such as rape, arson and murder.

Over the past 60 years, there has been a 95% reduction in the supply of inpatient psychiatric beds in the United States. Correspondingly, alternative treatment models never materialized so as to fully meet needs. As a result, there is less access to long-term care options. This population includes those assessed as lacking insight, chronically unable to care for themselves, and potentially dangerous to themselves and the public. The lack of available treatment and housing for those suffering from dangerous forms of mental illness and addictions has unfortunately resulted in jails becoming the largest mental health care providers in America. The United States Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance reported that over 64% of people in jails suffer from mental health problems (24% reported as “serious mental illness) and 68% have a substance abuse disorder. The Whatcom County Jail population approximates these same proportions and many offenders have co-occurring mental health and addiction issues.

Over the past decade, reductions in state and federal funding for community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment in Washington State have resulted in a crisis in terms of available treatment and housing. The Associated Press reported: “A report by Mental Health America that ranked states based on whether mentally ill people had access to care placed Washington 48th.” The presentation by Mr. Valentine of the North Sound Regional Service Network on the State’s expanded Medicaid program at the March and the potential funding of crisis centers at the March 31st Council Finance Committee meeting does offer some potential opportunities for improvement.

Research further indicates that even when treatment is available; it is often episodic and lacks the continuity needed to stabilize symptoms. Many patients become homeless, which may increases the likelihood of crime and arrest. Family members of people with mental illness who attempt to intervene and seek involuntary treatment are often frustrated by the lack of services and the high threshold criteria for involuntary commitments. Psychiatric in-patient care providers frequently refuse to admit patients because they are ill; have co-occurring addiction issues; or are violently out of control. In some cases, hospitals and other health care providers refer patients for arrest because they are unmanageable and assault staff and other patients.

Several years ago, following recommendations from the Law and Justice Council, leaders in the Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement and Corrections Bureaus; the Health Department; the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; local police representatives and the mental health community were tasked with forming a working group to study the need for a fully functional mental health triage center. A plan was developed to provide a fully functional center that would allow law enforcement to divert minor offenders with mental health issues from the criminal justice system to treatment. While in 2007 a 14-bed behavioral health triage center opened to divert offenders whose main issues were mental health, alcohol or substance abuse, the facility was not fully funded for its intended and recommended purpose. It currently does little to directly divert offenders from jail.

Law enforcement has the ability to involuntarily take people who as a result of mental illness are gravely disabled or present a likelihood of serious harm. The local process involves taking them to the emergency room for an evaluation by a mental health professional. A frequently occurring theme is for the person to be quickly released from custody. For example, in February deputies responded to a 9-1-1 call from a man who indicated that he had armed himself with a knife and wanted deputies to kill him. Deputies arrived to find the man standing in the middle of the road waiving a knife and hammer. He took off his clothes. Our crisis negotiators spent over an hour convincing him to surrender. He was taken for a mental health evaluation and within 24 hours, was released from the hospital and was on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page wanting to know how to get his knife back. He continued to make implied threats against law enforcement the following week. This example is not an aberration but rather a common theme officers encountered by officers on a recurring basis.

While some options exist under existing federal law for the use of crisis stabilization units and triage centers as an alternative to incarceration, the Legislature enacted a series of statutes (RCW 10.31-110-10.31.120) that will allow law enforcement to divert an “individual who committed acts constituting a non-felony crime that is not a serious offense as identified in RCW 10.77.092 and the individual is known by history or consultation with the regional support network to suffer from a mental disorder” to several alternatives that include triage and crisis stabilization units. The law takes effect on April 1, 2016 and requires concurrence with the Prosecutor.

Compounding the problem are Washington State laws governing competency determinations and treatment to restore the competency and stability to offenders with acute symptoms of mental illness. While the law requires that evaluations and involuntary treatment be performed at Western State Hospital, the Legislature in recent years reduced the programs that provide these services. The result is very violent offenders accused of the most dangerous of crimes remain confined in the County Jail for months while they await the treatment needed to restore competency and stability. The backlog of those awaiting competency determinations and treatment within jails exacerbates existing safety and offender management issues.

One only has to do a Google search of news articles to find that Western State Hospital is the highest risk place to work in Washington State. Workers are assaulted by violence the job 60 times more than the average worker in the State. These offenders are now housed for longer periods in our jail which has little room to manage them. This has exposed staff and contracted workers to increased risk.

The Whatcom County Jail is the de facto largest behavioral health institution in our community. However, it operates at nearly twice its designed capacity and lacks sufficient space to safely house, manage or optimally treat those with serious forms of mental illness and addiction issues.
Offenders requiring close monitoring are housed in a busy booking area that operates 24-hours a day. As little space exists for mental health and chemical dependency professionals to communicate with offenders, evaluation, treatment and counseling normally occur through a hatch in the steel door that separates inmates from staff. These physical limitations and the lack of privacy hamper the effectiveness of treatment and efforts to restore stability. The lack of staffing and space also preclude frequent visitation and the maintenance of family connections that are often vital to post-release success. An absence of appropriate housing for those with dangerous forms of mental illness creates enormous safety issues for staff and other inmates. Persistently overcrowded conditions often aggravate existing mental health symptoms.

Close Observation cell used for housing offenders with significant and threatening mental health issues is located in the noisy and busy booking areaclose observation

Mental health services are often delivered by “whispering” through a food tray hatch in the cell doormental health services

While jails may not be the optimal first default for minor offenders with behavioral disorders who do not pose a threat to public safety, the law requires and will likely continue to require that jails hold some people who suffer from mental illness or addiction issues who have committed crimes. While these offenders are committed to our custody, we have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to hold them in a safe and humane manner and not aggravate or compound existing disorders.

While there are no simple or immediate solutions to this problem, the Sheriff’s Office worked within the parameters of existing limitations to ensure that the offenders with serious mental health and addiction problems are to the extent possible, evaluated and treated while in jail. However, our experience with recidivism demonstrated many offenders upon being released from jail, either lacked access to or had an unwillingness to follow through with referrals for community-based treatment and soon re-offended. Without appropriate treatment and medication, disabling symptoms often generate the same behaviors that send them back to jail as a direct result of their untreated disorders. Nationally, studies report that offenders with serious mental illness are 2 to 3 times more likely that those without mental illness to be re-incarcerated.

One major obstacle to the availability of community-based mental health services for released offenders is their inability to pay. Most mentally ill offenders are uninsured. Even when eligible for health care subsidies, most have not enrolled. While many are eligible for Medicaid that would otherwise help pay costs, federal and state regulations suspend Medicaid eligibility once offenders are incarcerated in jail. Re-enrollment in Medicaid and application for other federal insurance benefits is an onerous process. Mentally ill and chronically addicted offenders often need help to access these benefits. Without these benefits and the connection to treatment, their untreated symptoms may quickly return them to jail.

In 2008, the County Council enacted Chapter 3.37 “Sales and Use Tax for Chemical Dependency or Mental Health Treatment Services and Therapeutic Court Programs” for the purpose of “providing new or expanded chemical dependency or mental health treatment services and for the operation of new or expanded therapeutic court programs, and as otherwise authorized by the laws of the state of Washington…” Revenues collected pursuant to that sales and use tax have funded programs that have made significant improvements to the delivery of mental health services within the jail and to offenders who re-entering the community. Ms. Deacon of the Health Department and her staff provided you a summary of these programs at the March 31st Council meeting.

In 2013, the Sheriff’s Office partnered with the County Health Department to enhance the delivery of mental health and addiction services within the jail through the “Jail Behavioral Health Program.” Relying on sales tax funding, the goal of this program is to stabilize behavioral health symptoms for those incarcerated in the jail and ensure effective connections to community-based services upon their release. A local psychiatric clinic places professionals within the jail to diagnose and treat acute symptoms. This process includes screening, triage, assessment, treatment planning, medications, counseling, coordination of civil commitment and evaluations. Behavioral health staff develop release plans that include solid connections and follow up with community-based treatment; assistance with health care enrollment or re-enrollment; and if needed, assisting with “co-pays” and housing. Ms. Deacon and her staff provided you with the most recent program evaluation and report on these jail-based programs at the March 31st Council meeting.

As law enforcement is often the first and the only 24/7 first responders available to address emergencies involving mental health crisis, the Sheriff’s Office has trained all deputies to address issues involving those in mental health crisis. It also established a specialized team of highly-trained professionals to peaceably resolve the most dangerous and challenging of cases.

As highlighted by Ms. Deacon and her staff, the sales tax has supported a number of prevention and treatment programs external to the Sheriff’s Office that helps prevent persons from entering the criminal justice system.

Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative: an evidence-based program that dramatically dropped the number of incarcerated children in the Whatcom County Juvenile Detention Center and resulted in a decrease in the number of children who go on to commit crime as adults;

School Based Behavioral Health Specialist Program: at least one behavioral health specialist is assigned to every school district in Whatcom County to address issues of addiction and manifestations of mental illness;

Behavioral Health Triage Center: provides mental health crisis and substance abuse treatment; while originally envisioned as a potential means for law enforcement to divert those in crisis from the criminal justice to the mental health system, changes in funding streams prevented the facility from fully serving this purpose; however, it provides an alternative for those seeking professional assistance before committing crimes. Recent developments related to the expansion of the state Medicaid program may fund future expanded capabilities and capacity;

Mental Health Courts: Whatcom County funded the recently established Mental Health Courts within the Whatcom County District Court and the Bellingham Municipal Court. These courts are modeled under evidence-based research and success in other jurisdictions and follow a model requiring treatment and compliance;

Drug Court: Whatcom County completely funds the Whatcom Superior Court Drug Court that offers treatment alternatives for selected offenders whose crimes can be attributed to addictions;
Special Intensive District Court Probation: This program provides intensive pre-trial and post-conviction supervision and treatment of those with addiction issues and has helped reduce jail population through community-based supervision and successful no-return rates for habitual offenders.
I appreciate the support of the Council in working with the Legislature to establish a fourth Superior Court Judge position in and for Whatcom County. This may help the courts more rapidly resolve felony cases and ultimately, help control the jail population.

As Sheriff I fully supported treatment and diversion programs and have worked in close partnership with the Health Department and the Executive’s Office to make these programs successful. While opportunities may exist to reduce or control jail needs, the current jail needs to be replaced as quickly as possible. The proposed new jail will provide space for mental health and substance abuse programs for those that must be incarcerated while providing safe and humane conditions for visitors, staff and offenders.

Please be assured of my continued coordination and cooperation as treatment and diversion programs external to the Sheriff’s Office are expanded or pursued.
Bill Elfo, Sheriff

Whatcom County plans funding and construction of new jail

Civic Agenda: Whatcom County plans funding and construction of new jail
By Jack Louws
Courtesy to The Bellingham HeraldJanuary 11, 2015


This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws to provide to share updates about Whatcom County issues and projects. He invites citizens to contact him at 360-676-6717 or jlouws@co.whatcom.wa.us.

During its 160-year history Whatcom County has been charged by state law with the operation and maintenance of the county jail and related correctional facilities. It’s widely recognized that the existing jail requires additional capacity and improved infrastructure in order to safely incarcerate the combined volume of inmates charged by the cities as well as county inmates. Since becoming county executive, a key priority of my administration has been to work closely with our sheriff, council and city leaders on finding the best solution to these capacity and infrastructure problems. Thanks to the commitment of many agencies, organizations and stakeholders, Whatcom County is actively planning the construction of a new jail along with an adjacent facility to house all Sheriff’s Office operations.

The county intends to build and operate a new jail consisting of approximately 520 beds to service the needs of all jurisdictions in the community for the foreseeable future. The facility will contain desperately needed space to better house and treat inmates with mental illness who may endanger themselves or others as well as provide programming designed to reduce recidivism. Through the hard work and collaboration with the cities and many agencies, construction is anticipated to begin in February 2017. To accomplish this, several project steps are already underway to locate the new county jail on Labounty Road in the south part of the city of Ferndale:

Prior to any building Whatcom County will be applying to the city of Ferndale for a conditional use permit. The process leading to a permit will confirm the intended visual and infrastructure requirements on the site to meet the design and other important expectations of the city. Whatcom County’s lead architect, the DLR Group, has been helping facilitate the permitting process.

With the support of the sheriff and other agencies working as a team the DLR Group has been reviewing the building site to determine overall opportunities and concerns on the Labounty Road site.

The site has many natural features, including a gradual elevation grade change and some wetlands. The grade change of the site will be incorporated into the design of the jail facilities to limit the visual impact to the surrounding neighbors and residences on Labounty Road. The new jail plans include avoiding and minimizing the impacts on wetlands as well as enhancing the on-site wetlands with the goal of providing an enriched habitat and connection to the surrounding plants and lands.

These wetland mitigation and enhancement efforts will be reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Ecology. A key role these agencies perform is to ensure the project is taking advantage of the on-site opportunities to avoid and enhance the existing habitat effectively. These state and federal agencies will be reviewing the project plans and permits through the summer of 2015.

Our local climate conditions are also carefully reviewed so as to determine the building forms that respond best to environmental impacts, such as the strong northeastern wind. In this case a combination of trees and shrubs will provide the necessary wind buffer as well as an effective screening of the facilities throughout the building site. The project permits are being submitted to the city of Ferndale by the end of January in concordance with their application process. The total project design will be reviewed by the city of Ferndale to ensure the project can met the requirements set by the city with permit approval anticipated in March 2015.

Many elements must be considered when planning for and constructing a new jail, most important, of course, is the security of the community, our jail staff and the inmates. While the construction has critical infrastructure elements to consider there are also design choices that help to make positive and corrective impacts on the inmates. The same design elements that have been used successfully at other buildings around the country can be used to improve the work environment for our corrections deputies and other staff who spend thousands of hours inside the building. It’s important to design a facility that improves the environmental conditions for all who enter the building. We all recognize that daylight offers health, mental and physiological benefits. These natural elements can have physiological and calming benefits and acoustic controls can reduce tension. These types of design elements improve the work environment for the correctional deputies and help with inmate management, which is mutually beneficial. Efforts to create sustainable, safe, light-filled, and warm work environments for our corrections officers better equips them to do their best work.

To support the exterior of the building the design layouts reflects separate public and secure staff entrances. The public entrance is situated to the south and scaled to proper proportions, whereas, the staff entrance is scaled to fit the neighboring residential zone to the northeast. The design process will continue after Whatcom County is granted the conditional use permit and by the end of 2015 we will finalize the interior building layout. The design of the jail will progress through detailed studies of design decisions and the documentation phase. We intend to provide a full construction package for bidding by mid-2016 with construction anticipated to begin in February 2017.

Meanwhile, the county is working collaboratively with the city of Bellingham and small cities to develop a long term inter-local agreement that will guide the funding of the construction, operations and services from all the cities and jurisdictions that are using the jail facility. The inter-local agreement confirms the cities and other jurisdictions desire to continue use of the jail for the detention of their inmates. These governments and agencies have agreed that the community and its taxpayers are best served by a cooperative, collective approach to public infrastructure, including the new jail, through joint planning and financing. I’m pleased that these efforts help to promote economies of scale and maximize the efficiencies of your local governments.

A capitol project of this size will take a voter-approved tax measure this fall to make this project a reality within the timelines identified. As Whatcom County and the cities, with the technical support of The DLR Group and bonding consultant, Public Financing Management, refine the costs and funding strategies for this facility, I will continue to be updating you with our progress in the coming months. Please contact me or Sheriff Elfo for further information or clarification if needed.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2015/01/11/4069563_civic-agenda-whatcom-county-plans.html?sp=/99/122/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

Northwest Regional Gang-Drug task Force Arrests Narcotics Dealers

On October 22, 2014, the Northwest Regional Gang and Drug Task Force (NWRGDTF) completed a ten month investigation of two Everson area men involved in the sale of methamphetamine and heroin in Whatcom County. During the on-going investigation, undercover agents purchased ounce quantities of methamphetamine and heroin from both suspects on multiple occasions. The NWRGDTF was assisted in the investigation by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Bellingham Police Department, the Bellingham office of the DEA and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The suspects in this investigation are identified as:

Manuel “Manny” Moreno Gonzalez (30 year old male)
1768 E. Pole Road
Everson, WA

Rudolfo “Rudy” Nava (33 year old male)
115 W. Second St.
Everson, WA

Manuel Moreno Gonzalez had previously been identified as a significant supplier of methamphetamine and heroin in Whatcom County. Over the past several months, undercover agents purchased drugs from his Pole Road residence. On the morning of October 22, 2014, Deputies arrested Moreno Gonzalez on a traffic stop in the Lynden, Washington area. A search warrant was then served on his residence on Pole Road. Detectives recovered approximately 2.5 pounds of methamphetamine from the residence, as well as 4 ounces of heroin. They also recovered a stolen handgun and seized approximately $3000 in cash. Moreno Gonzalez is a Mexican citizen who is illegally in the United States. He has previously been deported from the country on three occasions.

Moreno Gonzalez was booked into the Whatcom County Jail on the investigation of the following charges:
• 4 counts of Delivery of a Controlled Substance (Methamphetamine and Heroin)
• Maintaining a Vehicle/Premises for Drug Trafficking
• Possession of Methamphetamine with Intent to Deliver
• Possession of Heroin with Intent to Deliver
• Possession of a Stolen Firearm
• Unlawful Possession of a Firearm 2nd (previously convicted of a felony)
• Alien in Possession of a Firearm

Rudolfo Nava had previously been identified as a distributor of narcotics in Whatcom County and has previously been arrested by the NWRGDTF for narcotics sales and deliveries. It is believed Moreno Gonzalez supplies Nava with the narcotics and Nava then makes sales of the drugs in Whatcom County. Over the past several months, undercover agents purchased heroin and methamphetamine from Nava in controlled-buy situations.

On the morning of October 22, 2014, law enforcement attempted to arrest Nava at a location in the 7000 block of Everson Goshen Road. Nava attempted to flee from agents in a vehicle he was driving. Officers pursued Nava to a location in the 600 block of Roeder Avenue in Everson, where he was forced to stop and taken into custody without further incident. Nava was booked into the Whatcom County Jail on the investigation of 3 counts of Delivery of a Controlled Substance-Heroin. Additional charges may be pending in regards to further Narcotics Violations as well as Felony Eluding. Nava has six previous felony convictions, of which 5 are related to drug violations.

The Use Of Surplus Military Equipment by WCSO

By Sheriff Bill Elfo
Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald September 8, 2014

Recent events have raised questions about federal government programs that provide surplus military equipment to law enforcement. Fundamental to ordered liberty in the United States is the principle that local law enforcement is not a force of military occupation, but rather are part of the community and accountable to locally elected officials and the citizenry. Law enforcement officers do not function as soldiers, but rather as guardians of the community. Our citizens rightfully expect that officers be respectful of constitutional rights but remain highly trained, well-equipped and prepared to responsibly and effectively protect them.

I cannot speak to the type of surplus military equipment acquired in other states or how it is deployed. I can specifically address the nature of equipment that has been acquired by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and the circumstances and manner in which it is used.

The sheriff’s office received surplus anti-ballistic type body armor and vehicles. This equipment is designed to maximize the level of protection afforded officers, victims and innocent bystanders from those seeking to use weapons against them. The vehicles are “armored,” but are not “armed.” This means that they provide a high-level of ballistic protection from weapons but are not “weaponized” or in any way used as weapons.

Law enforcement is increasingly confronted with armed, dangerous and often mentally ill and irrational persons and must plan for responses to terrorist acts. Anti-ballistic equipment and vehicles maximize the safety of officers as they respond to these high-risk situations. The vehicles and equipment also provide a platform from which officers can more safely evacuate citizens from zones of danger.

Dramatic news footage of school shootings, the Jewish Community Center shooting in Seattle and other incidents involving active shooters highlight risks to innocent bystanders and victims who suddenly find themselves in the midst of a violent attack. It makes no sense to evacuate citizens by running them unprotected through a potential field of fire when safe and effective alternatives are available. These specialty vehicles are also designed to traverse floods, mud and other challenging terrains and can facilitate search and rescue missions.

Armored vehicles are not used for routine patrol. The sheriff’s office maintains highly refined risk-assessment and deployment protocols for the deployment of this special equipment. The vehicles are operated by trained special response team deputies and are used when reasonably necessary to safely transport officers or protect and evacuate citizens.

Anti-ballistic equipment is just one protection tool available to officers. Responding to high-risk crisis situations involving weapons is a very complex business. Seconds and skill count and can literally mean the difference between life and death. Law enforcement must have a wide-array of options for quickly defusing such threats.

All first-responding deputies are trained to peaceably defuse situations whenever possible. However, they are also trained and prepared to immediately and appropriately respond to instances posing an imminent threat to life. Deputies are provided a range of less-lethal training and equipment as options.

While some situations will dictate the use of deadly force, less-lethal equipment and training has in many instances minimized the degree of force needed to safely resolve confrontations, reduced injuries to officers and suspects and undoubtedly saved lives.

Deputies are supported by a crisis negotiation team with advanced skills in defusing situations involving dangerously mentally ill and irrational persons. The team is dispatched to all situations where their expertise can help bring peaceable resolutions to volatile situations. The team’s training is in part supported and coordinated by the behavioral health function of the health department. The team has proven highly effective in successfully negotiating the surrender of armed and dangerous suspects and saved lives.

As local budget constraints have limited the acquisition of anti-ballistic equipment, obtaining equipment through federal surplus programs and modifying it for civilian use helps meet operational needs and makes fiscal sense.

Nationwide, some are expressing concerns about the militarization of the police. As vice chair of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, an agency responsible for training and certifying all local law enforcement officers in Washington, I can report that the opposite is occurring. Officers are not trained as soldiers preparing for war. Rather, the focus is on building a culture that reflects officers are guardians of the communities they serve and the Constitution. While officers remain highly trained in the tactics needed to protect themselves and others, additional emphasis is placed on de-escalating conflict as well as knowledge of the history and rule of law from which their authority is derived. This culture is reflected in Whatcom County as law enforcement agencies work together to protect the community while retaining the trust, confidence and respect of the citizens we serve.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/09/08/3840881/military-surplus-equipment-helps.html#storylink=cpy

Jail Time for defendants in Bogus Report of Home Invasion

From the Bellingham Herald


FERNDALE – A 17-year-old babysitter and her two friends have been sentenced to juvenile detention and jail time for faking a home-invasion robbery near Ferndale, then covering it up by blaming the break-in on an African-American neighbor.

The teenage girl, of Bellingham, faces up to a year behind bars.

She had been working as a babysitter for two girls, aged 1 and 4, for about three months at an apartment in the 5300 block of Northwest Drive. She was watching over them, and her own 1-year-old son, at 4:20 p.m. June 18, when two young men burst through the door.

They shouted, “Get the (expletive) out!”

“Go outside, don’t ask questions,” the babysitter told the girls, “and don’t look back.”

But the 4-year-old girl did look back. Later her description of the men – who had “grumpy” voices and “peach” skin, she said – helped to crack the case.

The babysitter and the girls fled, but dallied, before going to a neighbor’s house to call 911. The teenage girl described the robbers as two black men in their 20s, dressed in black clothing. One man, who looked thinner, held a knife; the other, more muscular man had what looked like a gun handle sticking out of his backpack, she said.

A U.S. border helicopter, police dogs and heavily armed sheriff’s deputies swarmed the neighborhood.

The babysitter pointed out that one of the neighbors was black and looked like one of the “robbers.” So Cody Oakes, 25, was called out of his home at rifle-point, handcuffed, questioned, and detained for hours in the back of a patrol car.

Other than a traffic ticket, Oakes has no criminal history. He’s an analyst at J.P. Morgan and quarterback for the semipro Bellingham Bulldogs. He calmly explained he’d just been getting ready for football practice when he saw the SWAT team roll up, and that he knew nothing about the break-in.

Confronted, the babysitter changed her story. One of the suspects might be a homeless East Indian man she knew, she said. Eventually, she admitted one of her 16-year-old friends had done it, but she claimed he acted alone. She finally caved and said she and her boyfriend, Ruben Jerome Benjamin, hatched the plot.

According to a court document filed this month by Deputy Prosecutor Evan Jones, they’d been planning it for weeks. The babysitter agreed to pack up the items they would steal and to unlock the doors.

Two hours beforehand, she messaged Benjamin, “Your going to need a couple of backpacks and take my diaper bag from the house too. It’ll look weird if mu stuff isn’t taken too” (sic).

She followed up via text an hour-and-a-half later: “I pods in both bed rooms. Look through the cubes in the bed room and the shelf in the living room. Um multipurpose room jewelry box.”

The other teens put on black Latex gloves and backpacks, and parked blocks away from the apartment. They stole a piggy bank, laptops, gaming gear – in all, about $1,500 in property. Nearly all of it was recovered the same day.

The babysitter and the 16-year-old accomplice pleaded guilty this week to residential burglary and conspiring to commit residential burglary. She was sentenced in juvenile court to 44 to 52 weeks; the boy must serve 15 to 36 weeks in juvenile detention.

The Bellingham Herald doesn’t name minors convicted of crimes that don’t result in a death. The babysitter turns 18 next week.

Benjamin, 18, has been serving out his six-month jail sentence since pleading guilty to second-degree robbery and residential burglary in July.

All three had a history of petty crimes: minor in possession of alcohol, third-degree theft, second-degree malicious mischief and drug possession.

They’re barred from contacting the victim family. Restitution remains to be determined.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/08/15/3803947/babysitter-accomplices-in-bogus.html#storylink=cpy