Safety of Island County Citizens Seriously Diminished Since 2008 Due to Commissioners Failure to Properly Prioritize Funding of Programs; Many Not Even Mandated

Author:Bill

This report  about the Prosecutor’s  operation is just the tip of the iceberg regarding this serious  problem. When the analysis of Sheriff Brown’s operation is completed you will see an ever more depressive picture of citizen safety

This needs analysis uses 2008 as the benchmark for staffing and M&O budgeting. That was the last year at which the Prosecutors office was fully staffed to perform all of the functions mandated by statute and state constitution.

It is notable that in 1999, they had a total of 5.5 deputy prosecutors on the criminal side of the office, including a Chief Criminal Deputy. Current staffing is below that level, although caseloads are higher.

During the same time period, from 2008 through 2013, Maintenance and Operations budget was reduced from $142,198 to $121,353. In 2013 the entire budget of the Island County Prosecutor’s Office is $1,388, 319.

Impact of lost staff:

The loss of the Chief Criminal Deputy has had a tremendous impact. That person was the operational director of all criminal prosecution activities. His/her role included training/supervision of line deputy prosecutors, case load assignment and management, prosecution of major crimes, and liaison with law enforcement agencies.

With the elimination of that position, the elected prosecutor has taken on those duties, to the extent possible. The cascading effect is that the elected prosecutor functions much as a deputy prosecutor, and has all but withdrawn from criminal justice leadership activities at both the County and State level.

The loss of two other criminal deputy prosecuting attorneys (DPAs) crippled the office in 2010 and 2011. This resulted in simply not prosecuting hundreds of criminal traffic offenses, and made ‘fire-sale” deals on cases at all levels. Major cases tended to be delayed for lack of time to prepare them.

The reinstatement of one of those positions, coupled with the decline in misdemeanor cases (a direct result of fewer law enforcement officers) has allowed us to regain footing in the District Court. However, they are still an office that does not fire on all cylinders. The most immediate and critical impacts caused by low staffing are:

*Inability to prosecute crimes to full extent of the law due to unsustainable caseloads

*Delays in filing charges and bringing cases to trial due to caseloads

*The addition of one or more major criminal cases to the baseline caseload has deleterious effects on entire office, as resources must be reassigned, and less serious cases are backlogged or resolved on terms unfavorable to the public.

*Elimination of in-house training of deputy prosecutors

*Elimination of training of police officers by prosecutors (on such critical topics as search and seizure law changes, domestic and sexual violence case preparation, etc.)

*Deputy Prosecutor burn-out (this is compounded by paying our deputy prosecutors near the lowest salaries in the State).

Although our criminal caseloads have generally declined since 2008, the trend began to reverse last year. In addition, the closure of a mental health facility in Skagit County has added a new caseload of involuntary commitment hearings in Island County.

This is a brand new caseload that had to be  absorbed with no new staff, training, or resources.

Specific Needs: This is in addition to the 2013 budgeted staffing, and assumes that the two positions that will sunset at the end of the year will also continue into 2014.

Absolutely Essential Needs:

Reinstate Chief Criminal Deputy P.A. (salary and benefits): $110,000

Reinstate 0.5 FTE legal assistant to Full Time (would require full benefits): $ 24,000

Estimated increase in M&O Expenses $ 5,000

TOTAL: $139,000

Additional needs:

Investigator Assigned to P.A. (S&B) $70,000

Reinstate 3rd District Court DPA in anticipation of rising caseload due to more Sheriff’s deputies (S&B) $65,000

Estimated increase in M&O Expenses $ 7,500

TOTAL: $137,500

Explanation:

The re-creation of a Chief Criminal DPA position and the expansion of the part time legal assistant to full time are the most critical needs, even given current case loads.

Being staffed for the minimum possible caseload is unworkable whenever a major crime is committed, or when there is a cluster of criminal activity that pushes a surge of new cases into the office. Additional personnel necessarily results in a rise in M&O expenses, based on use of additional supplies, travel, training, etc.

One can assume that the addition of law enforcement officers will result in a rise in caseloads, particularly in the District Court, resulting in an increase of 200 – 250 that  might  be sustainable for District Court cases with current DPA staffing.  (Note – an increase of 200 would have District Court DPAs handling about 600 cases per year. This would be more than twice the attorney caseload that the Supreme Court has mandated as the maximum for public defenders.)

The cutbacks in law enforcement have also resulted in unnecessary competition for investigative resources in all law enforcement agencies on major cases. When felony level investigations are referred to the Prosecutors office, DPAs often request detectives to conduct additional follow-up investigation before charges can be filed, or in preparation for trial. Unfortunately, the number of detectives in the ICSO is inadequate

Detective resources also appear to be stretched. Detectives are often required to respond to newly committed major crimes, and follow-up requests from the Prosecutor take a back seat, not withstanding court and statutory deadlines, including rapes and homicides, where follow-up was delayed for weeks and even months, due to emergent new cases.

White collar criminal cases often involve data-intensive and time-consuming investigations that are simply prioritized lower than violent crimes Some of this genre have taken years to complete because of prioritization issues.

In Langley and Coupeville, there are no dedicated investigators, although they are required follow-up on their felonies just like anyone else’s.

Needed is either an investigator position be created within the prosecutor’s office, or one be created within to the Sheriff’s Office, but specifically assigned to assist the prosecutor in follow-up investigation for felony crimes from any agency.

25 comments

  1. avatar

    Thank you Bill S. for doing this post.

    I know you don’t do this for the thank yous, but as somebody who went through a violent home invasion and is eager to move to Whidbey Island to the point I’ve applied for a job; hearty thanks.

    I also want our sailors safe and sound here at home from the jerks who hate on them, so thank you again.

  2. avatar

    The big question is whether or not our county WILL prioritize spending or will they come to the taxpayers for a levy? We are taxed out, at least I am.

    It seems the answer has alway been go to the taxpayer first and then when the taxpayers say nay on a levy to then look at other methods to fund our basic services. Recently we have seen the answer to funding necessary services is to just not fund them as in your article above which is not an answer.

    Hopefully our Commissioners will look at all our county departments to see where savings can come from that can be used elsewhere instead of maintaining the staus quo and again ask the taxpayers for more money.

    1. avatar

      It is time to sell non-performing assets.

    2. avatar

      Agreed. Time for change.

  3. avatar

    “Hopefully our Commissioners will look at all our county departments to see where savings can come from that can be used elsewhere instead of maintaining the staus quo and again ask the taxpayers for more money.”

    They better do that Cliff…

    …It’s time our Commissioners and several levels of county staff become very familiar with these laws:

    RCW 42.20.040 False Report,
    RCW 42.20.050, Public officer making false certificate,
    RCW.20.100, Failure of duty by a public officer, a misdemeanor

    AND, RCW 29A.56.110…”..demand recall and discharge of any elective public officer of the state or of such political subdivision demand the recall and discharge of any elective public officer of the state or of such political subdivision, under the provisions of sections 33 and 34 of Article 1 of the Constitution ..for these purposes it means”

    (1) “Misfeasance” or “malfeasance” in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty;
    (a) Additionally, “misfeasance” in office means the performance of a duty in an
    (b) Additionally, “malfeasance” in office means the commission of an unlawful act;

    (2) “Violation of the oath of office” means the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully a duty imposed by law.

    In matters like these the Attorney General of Washington stated “… does not have the authority or jurisdiction to involve itself in the internal workings of local political subdivisions they suggest contacting …Internal affairs Department of involved cities or the County Sheriff, or Washington State Patrol for help”

    To me that says Brown has authority for ALL enforcement in Island County ,with the Prosecutor handling the legal issues in response to Brown’s investigations; not the Commissioners
    In Island County passing out speeding tickets to generate revenue is an insignificant part of the Sheriff Department ’s duties and writing incident reports after the fact is NOT protection of citizens!!!

    1. avatar

      Good information Bill. Thank you. Let’s add Collusion and Fraud to your list. I believe there have been several instances of these types of crimes against citizens during the past Four Years in Island County government which could be investigated by professional investigators at county or state agency levels or investigative news media efforts.

      The County Sheriff, by statute and tradition is the PRIMARY COUNTY OFFICER in this and most states. The authority of his position exceeds that county commissioners whose only legal connection with a sheriff’s duties is granting sufficient funds as required by the sheriff to fulfill his responsibility for county citizens. Likewise the Elected County Sheriff is only accountable to his county’s citizens, not the commissioners, not a governor, not even a president.

      1. avatar

        Grunt, you are probably right about, “…collusion and Fraud to your list.” but we need documented facts to make a case
        I hope this and the article I’ll soon publish about the Sheriff’s operation will result in many people sending us the needed facts
        We need all the help we can get to be powerful
        Go to this artilcle by Cliff and look at all the people involved and the info they gave him, or think back to when Homola’s husband was involved in her Dog and Pony show our picture of him in his Navy uniform annd a picture of the family by “HIs?” airplane in one of her re elect me mailers… all against Navy Regs
        http://www.islandpolitics.org/?p=8876

  4. avatar

    I find it interesting that the non-mandated social programs continue, and sometimes grow; but mandated services decrease in scope. Government’s role isn’t to be my “nanny,” it is to provide essential services only, and I won’t vote for one more levy/tax increase until our local government recognizes that responsibility and starts acting accordingly.

  5. avatar

    Time for a core services review?

    In BC, Gordon Campbell of the free enterprise BC Liberals did it.

    Here’s why:

    “Our core services review asked fundamental questions of government: Is this a service that government should be undertaking? If it is a service that government should be undertaking, are we doing it in the most cost-effective manner? Have we examined the results the programs have delivered?

    “Those are fundamental questions I believe we should be asking consistently. They had not been asked for too long a time in British Columbia. Too often the answers to questions that were put to the government of British Columbia involved more dollars, more programs and less in terms of results. As a result, we had an economy over the last decade that underperformed every provincial economy in the country.”

  6. avatar

    This county has spent far too many millions of dollars buying up land to hold away from development, instead of funding adequate police, health and safety programs.

    It is going to take a lot of fast action to save this electeds-created mess.
    If we lose even one more police officer, we’re in big, big trouble.

    1. avatar

      “This county has spent far too many millions of dollars buying up land to hold away from development, instead of funding adequate police, health and safety programs.”

      That trend has not stopped, either! Literally on day ONE at the job, newly elected Commissioner Jill Johnson joined Helen Price-Johnson in sequestering 300 feet of low-bank waterfront property on South Whidbey away from any hope of ever being used for ANY type of development – ever.

      Even at today’s extremely DEFLATED property values, that’s an estimated another $7,000 less going into the County’s coiffures – FOREVER.

      “Island County accepts Mutiny Bay beach donation”
      http://www.whidbeynewstimes.com/news/187036011.html

      Why is Island County perennially in the land baron business?

      1. avatar

        I heard in one of the study sessions Commish Jill Johnson just demand an endgame to the Conservations Future fund. About bloody time.

        Besides the only land on Whidbey really in need of eminent domain, foreclosure, conservation and the like is 2 NM around OLF Coupeville. THAT would solve a lot of problems when the progressive agitators learned their agitation had genuine consequences they personally felt instead of the working craftsman or the lady small businessowner hoping Island Transit leaves enough time for a run to the bakery from a transit layover or Heaven Forbid the American warfighter.

        IF that means selling property elsewhere to pay for this, do it. It’s time to send a message to these agitators that if they want to cause trouble, troubled can – and will be – caused for them.

        1. avatar

          Talk is cheap. Rumors cost even less.

          The issue is not just the spending of Conservation Futures’ dollars: it’s also, for example, the issue of the County colluding with groups such as the Whidbey Camano Land Trust for plans to convert large swaths of private property into public property, such as the “Trillium Woods” on Whidbey Island.

          Even entertaining the IDEA of TYING the County’s hands FOREVER on the future-use of a piece of real property (or any asset, for that matter) is mind-bogglingly STUPID, as nobody has a crystal ball that can foresee what might make better sense many years into the future, yet that is the kind of myopic decision-making our so-called “leaders” continue to make. (Such was the case in my above example).

          Like I said, talk is cheap. Until I see action and votes that actually back up decisions that make real sense in the long-term, nothing has changed, in reality.

          1. avatar

            I am going to get in big trouble for this, but I actually agree with you. Island County Gov’t is on an unsustainable path annexing so much land… the priority should be protecting OLF Coupeville, NAS Whidbey Island & a few other areas that by protecting them would enhance the economic position of the county.

            Keep the pressure on.

            1. avatar

              “…enhance the economic position of the county.”

              Bingo.

              Jill Johnson, on day ONE at work, made a PERMANENT $600,000 real-estate decision that does anything BUT “enhance the economic position of the county”.

              And she wonders why people question her judgement???

              1. avatar

                “…And she wonders why people question her judgement???

                How about their Johnson & Johnson brand stamped on an agreement to spend $21,000 in hush money (our tax dollars) to an employee who resigned if he’d would not sue them????

                1. avatar

                  Yep, it’s confirmed that Pederson was paid hush money as part of his “?resignation?” by an associate who provided the following:
                  Bill, I was present when a discussion was approved concerning making some sort of a settlement agreement. I asked Elaine Marlow if the amount was a public record. She said, “Yes.”

                  He didn’t know the exact amount
                  Johnson and Johnson approved paying Pederson our tax dollars in exchange for him to NOT sue County and maybe Homola and Price-Johnson who were calling all the shots on Pederson’s actions; “…Pederson was just following his bosses’ orders”

                  There’s a lot going on behind the curtains with this action by Johnson and Johnson that needs to be investigated, i.e,
                  What was Pederson’s reason for threatening to sue County?
                  I am glad Kelly Emerson did not participate in that decision
                  At least we have one Commissioner with a standard for ethics, open government, and honesty
                  Time for another PDR!

      2. avatar

        the 300′ at Mutiny Bay was donated by a private citizen. I have no problems with the County receiving a GIFT of land.

        I do have problems with the County BUYING land.

        Parks and waterfront public access are important facts of life.

        Conservation of huge tracts of wooded lands that are purchased with our tax dollars have morphed into a big business opportunity for a private conservation trust organization. When we have such a deep public safety issue caused by lack of funding for police and sheriff, we must evaluate why the Commissioners chose to buy more and more land every year.

        Millions of dollars to theoretically ‘save’ a forest. Yet not enough to fund police/sheriff and public safety?

        Crazy. Insane. Not sustainable.

        1. avatar

          Whether the County either accepts land having spent no public money to do so or the County uses public dollars to acquire title to such property, doing so with conditions that tie Island County’s hands with respect to that land’s future-use FOREVER (as in this 300′ at Mutiny Bay example) is STILL EXCEEDINGLY STUPID, as nobody has a crystal ball that can foresee what might make better sense many years into the future.

          Virtually NOBODY would ever spend their OWN money on real property with such restrictive-use conditions attached FOREVER.

          When our elected officials routinely make decisions with OUR money that we would most likely NEVER make with our OWN money (as was done by both Jill Johnson and Helen Price-Jonson in this Mutiny Bay 300′ waterfront example), those elected officials are being 100% IRRESPONSIBLE with OUR MONEY and OUR RESOURCES.

          In this 300′ at Mutiny Bay example: let’s examine what has REALLY happened: the original property owner has simply manged to RELIEVE HIMSELF FOREVER of having to pay property taxes on that property, while he has also ENSURED for HIMSELF that NO ONE can EVER DO ANYTHING with it, thus ensuring himself a FREE PERSONAL park area near his home!

          This was one very SWEET DEAL for ONE rich person in the short term and a very BAD DEAL for Island County GOVERNMENT in the long term.

          In other words, both Jill Johnson and Helen Price-Johnson were EXCEEDINGLY STUPID in accepting this land under the future-restrictive conditions under which it was acquired, and the recommendation to them to do from island County staff was also EXCEEDINGLY STUPID.

        2. avatar

          At some point, you simply can’t keep saying that it’s “okay” for Island County to continue to accept “free” land donations to Island County and then continue to complain that about lack of revenue, as each of those free land “donations” which they accept also KILLS property tax REVENUE.

          That, however, is EXACTLY the kind to disconnected and substandard thinking that BOTH Jill Johnson and Helen Price-Johnson are continuing to display.

  7. avatar

    “and made ‘fire-sale” deals on cases at all levels”

    … seems like Island County is going to see a lot of appeals, or when appeal isn’t available, litigation against those ‘fire-sale’ decisions that were forced upon someone doing a plea bargain under unreasonable standards by the prosecutors office.

    Way past time to staff up and do things prudently, and legally.

    1. avatar

      Roger that Mike. When the Sheriff’s has received adequate funding to operate his department as HE sees necessary, then one by one increasing raising the salaries of other department officials such as prosecutor and planning director should be considered to attract quality elected and appointed administrators to Island County.

  8. avatar

    Now that we have a couple of thinking commissioners, and assuming that some other Washington counties do also, and I assume every county except a few are suffering from short revenues, just might be a ripe opportunity for counties to unite and contact their respective representation in Olympia demanding that the state drop a bunch of unfunded mandates that burden almost every county. Why this wasn’t attempted during the past four years by the operating majority of Island County commissioners is a legitimate question.

      1. avatar

        Since the eyes are above the nose, the eyes have it.

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