March 1, 2017

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

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:

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office History – Reserve Deputies 1969

First Reserve Deputy contingent, 1969 with Sheriff Bernie Reynolds First Reserve Deputy contingent, 1969 with Sheriff Bernie Reynolds[/caption]”>3210_001

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office assists with locating missing Alzheimer’s Patient

Missing elderly man safely located with aid of technology
Posted: February 13, 2014 1:51:26 PM PST

Bellingham (WA) On February 7, 2014 at about 4:20 p.m. the Bellingham Police responded to a report of a missing 71 year old male from Columbia Place Retirement Center. The male subject walked away from the facility against the wishes of facility staff who stated he was not capable of caring for himself.
This elderly man was wearing a “Project Lifesaver” radio tracking device, which is a specially equipped bracelet. Project Lifesaver was introduced in Whatcom County in 2008 as a partnership between the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) and the Alzheimer’s Society of Washington.
The missing man was located at about 8:30 p.m. because of the Project Lifesaver equipment. A deputy with a receiving unit traced the signal to the area of Champion and Holly Streets. The man was physically okay but disoriented. Considering that the low temperature on this day was nearly 20 degrees it was critical that this man be located a quickly as possible.

According to WCSO Sergeant Scott Huso, Search and Rescue Deputies along with several trained Search and Rescue Volunteers maintain several receivers which track the transmitter signal and aid in the search. On a national scale, searches that used to last hours have been reduced to an average of about 20 minutes for those that are wearing the transmitter.

Utilizing WCSO Search and Rescue experts for urban searches is an excellent example of the collaborative nature of local law enforcement. Through sharing resources all of our local agencies are able to provide excellent service to our citizens while being fiscally responsible. It would not be cost effective for every local agency to maintain a search and rescue element. Another example of this is the Bellingham Police Hazardous Devices Unit (bomb squad), which is staffed and maintained by BPD but made available to all jurisdictions in Whatcom County.

Caregivers and family members are able to enroll clients in the Project Lifesaver program through the Alzheimer’s Society for a nominal fee. If there are additional questions on how to enroll a potential client into Project Lifesaver please contact the Alzheimer Society of Washington at (360) 671-3316.

WCSO Assists with School Safety and Preparedness In Lynden

For Immediate Public Release: February 21 2013

(Lynden, WA)

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management lead a three hour table top exercise for teachers, fire, and police from the city of Lynden today. Table top simulation involves working through a scripted series of events, in a classroom environment, to discuss responses and actions that would be taken in response to an incident. The exercise was hosted at the Lynden Police Department and involved Lynden educators and first responders only.

The purpose of the exercise was to practice the schools all-hazard emergency plan and coordinate how it would work with the local first responders from the fire and police departments.

Whatcom Sheriff’s Office Deputy Director of Emergency Managment Kent Catlin had this to say:
“This level of cooperation between the school district, fire, and police departments is paramount. The community should take pride in the fact these organizations and agencies are willing to work together; you do not find this type of city/ school district cooperation everywhere in Washington State. Local solutions to local problems is always the quickest way mitigate a disaster”.

The exercise was the result of a six month planning effort and will help to lay the ground work for a safer community, and schools in the city of Lynden. The exercise incorporated educators and first responders sitting in a forum and discussing what protocols would be involved in their response.

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Sheriff’s Office Investigators Make Arrest in Birch Bay Burglaries

On Friday, November 9th, deputies from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jacob S. Dezarn for Residential Burglary, Possession of Stolen Property 1st Degree, Possession of a Stolen Firearm, and Trafficking Stolen Property 1st Degree.

During the months of May 2012 through August 2012, the Sheriff’s Office responded to a rash of Burglaries in the Birch Bay area. The Birch Bay Neighborhood Deputy, assisted by investigators from the Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit, Criminal Interdiction Team, and the Crime Analyst Unit, conducted an extensive investigation into these burglaries. The investigation resulted in the recovery of property valued at over $8,800.00, from 14 different burglaries, vehicle prowls and thefts. The property was recovered from Dezarn’s residence on Leeside Drive. Among the stolen property located there was one stolen firearm. The full information on the arrestee is as follows:
Jacob S. Dezarn (32 year old male)
Resides at 7541 Leeside Drive Blaine, WA

Mr. Dezarn has been one of the main suspects in the string of thefts and burglaries in the Birch Bay area. Additional arrests of other suspects were made over the past few months related to this investigation. These included the arrest of several local juvenile males in September 2012 for their involvement in some of the burglaries and thefts. Future arrests may also occur as the investigation progresses.

Case numbers associated with this investigation are:
2012A11413- Theft
2012A11656- Burglary
2012A12748- Residential Burglary
2012A13259- Burglary 2nd Degree
2012A13619- Burglary 2nd Degree
2012A14451- Theft
2012A14940- Residential Burglary
2012A15514- Residential Burglary
2012A15629- Residential Burglary
2012A14776- Residential Burglary
2012A17635- Theft
2012A17883- Residential Burglary
2012A18232- Vehicle Prowl
2012A17635- Residential Burglary

Fugitives from Oklahoma Captured in Whatcom County

Since yesterday, local law enforcement agencies have been searching for two suspects wanted in Oklahoma on charges of Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon, Kidnapping and Burglary who were reportedly in the Whatcom County area. At approximately 8:00 a.m. a Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the two in a vehicle near Nugent’s Corner.

The deputy followed the vehicle to the area of Smith and Hannegan Roads where other Deputies and officers from the Bellingham and Everson police departments had staged to intercept the vehicle and keep innocent bystanders out of harm’s way. The Sheriffs Special Response Team was training in the area, responded and helped take the suspects into custody. The road was closed for approximately 20 minutes as a result of this incident.

Stephan E. McCoy (2-28-82) and Jana Burns (2-25-84) were booked into the Whatcom County Jail on the above charges (both suspects were warrants for all of the above charges) and will await extradition to Oklahoma.

The two have been profiled on Oklahoma’s Most Wanted.

Sheriff Bill Elfo said: “This arrest represented the third time this week that dangerous fugitives have been captured in Whatcom County. This case reflected a high level of cooperation and coordination between law enforcement officers from multiple agencies.”

Whatcom County is a “Storm Ready” Community

Last February, the National Weather Service (NWS) accepted WhatcomCounty’s renewal application to continue as a StormReady(R) community.  The StormReady preparedness program  ( helps communities develop severe weather and flooding response plans with NOAA’s National Weather Service and local emergency managers. Since the program began in 1999, nearly 1,600 U.S. communities have become StormReady. 

 To earn StormReady designation, a community must:

Establish a 24-hour center to receive National Weather Service warnings and an emergency operations center;

Have redundant ways to receive weather forecasts and warnings and to alert the public;

Create a system that monitors local weather conditions;

Promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars; and

Develop a formal hazardous weather plan to train severe weather spotters and carry out emergency exercises.

In a letter from the NWS – Seattle Office, dated 02/27/2012,  Meteorologist in Charge Brad Colman and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Ted Buehner state, “Whatcom Countycontinues to do a fine job of promoting and executing all-hazards awareness and preparedness, including weather and flood, throughout the County.”

WhatcomCountyhas been a Storm Ready community since 2003 and was one of the first counties inWashingtonto be so recognized.  Recertification is required every three years. 

 Sheriff Elfo said: “A huge thanks must go to our extraordinary volunteer, Bob Jacobson, who completed our first application in 2003 and each of the three renewal applications since then.  In preparing the renewal application, Bob personally contacted each City Hall, School Superintendent’s office, and Senior Center to verify preparedness.  Bob also continues to coordinate the Skywarn(R) Severe Weather Spotter Training held in Whatcom County every two  years.”

Even though the County has taken these steps to be better prepared to respond to the needs of the community, the challenge remains for each resident and every business to prepare for severe weather and other hazards our community faces (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hazardous material incidents, etc) through personal, family, and business preparedness.

Dedicated Volunteer “Retires” from WCSO COPS Program

Verna Rawlins, a member of the Sheriff’s Office “Citizens on Patrol” volunteer unit received an award and recognition from Sheriff Bill Elfo and many grateful staff members of the Sheriff’s Office.  Verna worked as a senior volunteer with the Sheriff’s Office for six years and will be greatly missed by everyone here.

Sergeant Steve Gatterman, who coordinated the WCSO Traffic Unit:

Verna started helping with the Traffic Unit about 6 years ago.  During here tenure as a volunteer with the unit she provided administrative support that was critical to the efficient operation of the unit.  She was responsible for reviewing crash reports, and maintaining certification records on our agencies 80+ radar units, and 60+ portable breath test documents.  Her assistance in these areas allowed the Traffic Sergeant to focus on other critical administrative tasks.

 As part of her crash report duties, she would enter important information about the time, location, and causing factors of all reportable crashes on county roadways.  This data was used to identify problem areas that were then targeted for extra patrols.  While her work was done behind the scenes, the information she provided to the Traffic Unit was a key component of a 25% reduction in total crashes between 2005-2010.

 Verna also scanned the reports looking for crashes where county owned property such as road signs and guardrail had been damaged.  This allowed personnel from Whatcom County Public Works to seek reimbursement from the causing drivers.

 Verna was always upbeat and ready to take on any challenge that was given to her.  She will be greatly missed.

Alan Cheesman, WCSO Volunteer Coordinator:

 Verna joined the volunteer program in April 2005. At that time she was also volunteering at Bellingham PD and wanted more work to keep herself busy and give back to the community, so she joined the Sheriff’s Office. She initially started in Records, then Traffic, and then joined COP. She did all three and thoroughly enjoyed it. Verna is a wonderful person, has a great sense of Humor, and very dedicated to her work. She will be missed.

From all of us here at the Sheriff’s Office – THANK YOU VERNA!

Behind the Scenes at WCSO: Civil and Support Services

Those who have watched Law and Order, CSI, or NCIS seldom see behind the scenes as to what it takes to make it all come together. The “back room” staff at the Sheriff’s Office is responsible for performing numerous essential functions for the Sheriff’s Office. Their efforts assist in producing smooth and efficient operations for those whose tasks are more visible.

The Civil and Support Services Bureau responsibilities include; Records and ID; warrant entry and tracking; civil and criminal protection order entry, tracking, and service; civil functions; evidence management; volunteer services; radio communications; and equipment procurement services. Volunteer services will be covered in a future article.


Each time a Patrol Deputy or Detective is involved with an incident a report is compiled and submitted to the Records Division. The report contains basic information such as the date, time, and location of the incident; type of crime; names, addresses, and other contact information of victims and witnesses; names, addresses, and physical descriptions of suspects; description of lost or damaged property; and any evidence collected. The investigator submitting the incident report also writes and attaches a detailed narrative to the incident report that describes his/her involvement in the incident. An incident number, or case number, is also assigned to track this incident report in the data collection system.

Information that is part of our present data collection program is used for further investigation, identification of the persons involved, County Prosecutor, and for the courts to assist with their processes. Information is also sent to our Crime Analyst to determine crime patterns and possible suspect information. Records and ID personnel also provide other essential services to the general public to include: fingerprinting, concealed weapons permits, public disclosure requests, and court order service and tracking.


All evidence related to a crime must be carefully retrieved, identified, recorded, and securely stored. From the time that possession of the evidence takes place until following its presentation in court the chain of evidence control must not be broken. Each person who handles the evidence must sign for it and ensure that it is not allowed to leave their control until properly transferred. The Sheriff’s Office has facilities for secure storage of evidence and maintains a barcode computerized tracking system showing that the “chain” has not been broken. Periodic audits of the evidence control system are made to ensure that the system is functioning in accordance with proper procedures. Evidence technicians within the Records Division are specifically trained to handle and process specific evidence that is transferred to the Washington State Patrol crime labs for further processing and analysis. The Sheriff’s Office Evidence techs are also responsible for the release of property to owners and for the destruction of illegal items such as drugs and firearms that cannot be possessed under local, state, and federal statutes.


The radio communication problems associated with a two thousand square mile area to patrol are many and complex. The geography of Whatcom County presents more challenging issues in regards to radio coverage than many other locations in theUnited States due to mountain and valley formations. These geological features create numerous ‘dead spots’ where radio communication is not possible, using our current system. Officer safety is compromised in these areas.

Due to the proximity toCanada, Whatcom County also faces a unique issue regarding the acquisition of new radio frequencies. Not only does the FCC have to authorize the licensing of new frequencies, Canada also has to agree to the use of those frequencies. If both entities do not authorize the use of a specific frequency, the license is denied. This has sorely limited frequencies that are available for use in radio system improvements. Federal law enforcement agencies and some local police departments along this border also use radio frequencies and equipment that are not compatible with Whatcom County’s radio system. This heightens officer safety issues when trying to communicate with those agencies in times of emergency.


Various civil and non-civil court documents are served, in large part, by a Civil Deputy Sheriff assigned from the Patrol Division.  Each action taken by the Chief Civil Deputy, Civil Deputy Sheriff, or his designee is recorded and tracked in our civil tracking system, since it becomes part of the court record. The Civil staff works closely with the courts and other legal entities in the performance of their duties. The Civil Deputy also executes civil orders from the courts such as evictions and sheriff’s sales, among others.


Broken, worn out, or obsolete equipment reduces the efficiency of the Sheriff’s Office personnel. Radios, computers, and other equipment are procured by the Civil and Support Services Bureau for use by the Sheriff’s Office personnel.

Any equipment procured by the Sheriff’ Office is processed and tagged as directed by Whatcom County’s equipment tracking policy. This process also allows for the transfer, surplus, and destruction of county owned equipment based on value and condition.

Emergency Management? Never Heard of It.

By Doug Dahl

When I tell people I work for the Sheriff’s Office in emergency management the usual response is, “Emergency wha . . .?”  Many people don’t even know there is a Division of Emergency Management in the Sheriff’s Office, much less what we do.

Here’s a simple answer to that question: We’re the people that get involved when an event is too big for the capabilities of the responding agency.  We handle things like community notification, coordinating multiple response organizations, finding more resources and personnel, and managing the recovery process.  Essentially we provide support to responders in the field.

Do we ever have those kinds of emergencies?  You bet we do.  Here’s a reminder of a few of them:

2011 Flood

2010 Wind Storm

2010 Flood

2009 Landslide

2009 Flood

Whatcom Middle School Fire

Tanker Rollover

Olympic Pipeline Explosion

If you’d like more information about how to prepare for disasters, visit our website at or come see us at the Northwest Washington Fair August 15-20.