Island County sheriff says budget cuts have made it hard to go after criminals

by: Lee Stoll Updated:

ISLAND COUNTY, Wash. —

A North Sound county is in a public safety emergency. Budget cuts have left Island County--which covers Whidbey and Camano Islands--in such a bind that deputies can't go after criminals. When they do, they don't have the manpower to properly prosecute them. 

KIRO 7 asked Island County Sheriff Mark Brown "Is this an emergency?"

 "I consider it an emergency," said Brown.

Island County has the fewest number of officers per resident in the state. They're tied with Thurston County at the bottom of the list.

"We respond to as many calls as we can, but we triage those calls, and certainly,  property crime calls go to the bottom of the triage," said Brown.

And thieves apparently know it. Burglaries spiked two years ago, up more than 77 percent. Property crimes are jumped about 43 percent. State figures released Wednesday show little has changed.

"It's a worry, but we lock everything," said Judy Workman, who has seen multiple burglaries in her Clinton community.

One person was arrested, but with limited resources and a growing caseload, officers couldn't hold him for burglary, just stolen property possession, which is like a shoplifting slap on the wrist. His case is pending.

In Coupeville, the Law and Justice Council met and drafted a request for $2.6 million to increase law enforcement staff, including prosecutors. The money would allow the sheriff to hire enough officers to staff three precincts with two deputies around the clock.

The proposal now heads to county commissioners who will decide if it will be put on the ballot as a property tax increase.

"We should probably have a say, one way or the other. I hope so," said Workman.

Commissioners will talk about the proposal at their meeting in two weeks. They have to make a decision by August to get it on the November ballot.