Questions and Answers about Sheriff Coverage in Point Roberts

At the end of July, someone broke into Auntie Pam’s store on Gulf Road. Last week we had a little fun at the expense of the Sheriff’s Office because their lengthy response time was concerning to many people. Why did it take so long for help to arrive? Why wasn’t someone available faster? What if someone had been hurt? What if there had been a weapon involved? Do we have enough coverage from the Sheriff’s Office?

We sent a list of questions to the Sheriff's office. They provided very detailed responses back. Below, we include both our summary of their answers for those who don't want all the details, and the full answers as provided by the Sheriff’s Office for those who want to see the full details. You can choose which one you want to see for each question.

Questions: What happened with Auntie Pam’s break-in? Why did it take so long for the call to be answered? What time was the call received for that incident and what time did the deputy arrive on site?

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The break-in appeared to happen around 2:00-3:00 a.m. The incident was not called in until around 10:00 a.m. when our resident deputy was helping with a felony assault on the mainland. The deputy called the owner at 1:40 p.m. and arrived onsite around 5:00 p.m.

"The property owner made the call to the dispatch center at approximately 10:00 AM and reported the damage to the door.  By that time, the Resident Deputy had gone south to assist patrol units in the main County and was handling a felony assault case. As is common practice, we triage calls for service based on in-progress vs. cold calls, as well as nature of the crime (misdemeanor vs. felony, crimes against persons vs. crimes against property, etc.…).  While continuing to investigate the felony assault, the Resident Deputy called the victim at approximately 1:40 PM, and advised that he was currently handling another call and he would contact him upon his return to the Point. The victim reported damage to the door, but that nothing appeared to be missing. The Resident Deputy returned to the Point and responded to the store at approximately 5:00 PM to process the scene and take photographs.

"After reviewing the information, it appears that the upstairs tenant heard noises and yelling below between 2 and 3 AM. Had the call been made at that time, the Resident Deputy was on the Point and would have been able to respond to the suspected in progress burglary."

Questions: What typically happens in a crime like this? Would you take fingerprints, etc.? Is there a point where the evidence in a break-in such as this becomes stale?

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They assess the situation, take photos, take fingerprints. Here, the fingerprints were of no value as they were smudged. Evidence can deteriorate due to weather or people contaminating a scene.

"On a cold attempted burglary similar to what was reported at Auntie Pam’s, the deputy would process the scene, to include assessing damage/loss, photographs and latent fingerprints if they were present. It appears in this case that the deputy did attempt to lift latent prints, however they were not of evidentiary value due to smudging and lack of detail.

"I would not say stale, however (with) time, evidence can be affected by external conditions such as inclement weather and other people contamination the scene. Latent prints can be affected by rain, sun and dust which make it very difficult to lift usable fingerprints."

Question: Has anything like this happened before in Point Roberts - where a crime is being or has been committed and there were no deputies here to respond?

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Yes - they send up deputies from the mainland.

"Yes, I do not have actual stats, however given their schedules, contractual time off and other requirements of their jobs, there are times when there are not deputies on the Point. However, we are able to respond to calls for service from the main County for in progress calls, especially those that are life safety issues."

Questions: What if there had been a crime occurring? Is there a protocol for calling for backup or is it the deputy’s discretion?

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They would have sent someone up from the mainland. Overnight there are regularly only 4 or 5 deputies to cover the entire County.

"We would have sent deputies from the main county. If the Point Roberts deputies need backup, they would request additional units via on-duty supervisor in the main part of the County. In emergent situations, Resident deputy have requested assistance from Customs and Border Protection agents assigned to Point Roberts. When circumstances result in both of the Resident Deputies being off the Point, we cover in progress calls for service with other deputies working in the main county. The response time would be similar to that of a call for service in Glacier during late night and early morning hours when there are regularly 4 or 5 deputies covering all of Whatcom County."

Questions: You mentioned that you would send deputies from the mainland to Point Roberts to cover for or assist our resident deputies. Off the top of your head, do you know if that has ever happened? Is it something that happens regularly?

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Yes, they have sent backup units to help, detectives, the drug task force, the SWAT team.

"Yes, we do cover in progress calls with deputies for the main County if there are not deputies, as well as sending units to back up the resident deputy if they are not both on the Point. We have also utilized overtime to send deputies up to the Point during extended periods when the Resident deputies are on vacation and there will not be coverage. In addition, we have sent additional resources such as detectives, drug task force and the SWAT team (when) circumstances require an enhanced response or capability. ** Also see question below."

Question: How would it have been handled in other parts of the County when a deputy is not nearby?

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The Sheriff’s Office covers all 2,120 square miles of Whatcom County. There are delays in responses to other remote area of the County due to distance and limited number of deputies.

"As mentioned above, there are remote parts of the County such as Glacier that would have a delayed response to in progress calls due to the distance that the deputies have to travel.  Given the vast geography of Whatcom County (2120 square miles) and the limited number of deputies available at any given time, we attempt to strategically deploy resources, but don’t station people in remote locations when staffing levels are at minimums. As an example, when not responding to calls for service, deputies generally move to a central part of the County to complete reports. This allows them to respond to far corners of the county in an efficient manner if other units are tied up on calls."

Questions: Do both deputies live here? Are there hours when there is no coverage here at all? How often are both deputies away from Point Roberts? (**Part of answer provided above.)

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Two deputies live here in housing provided by the County, and they are assigned a two year rotation. They are not required to be on the Point outside of their 40 hour work week. Deputies respond to calls after hours and it is rare that both deputies are off the Point at the same time. During vacations, they have provided coverage with overtime for mainland deputies.

"Yes. There are two Resident Deputies who are assigned to Point Roberts. They both have primary residences on the Point in housing that is provided by the County. They are not mandated to remain on the Point on their regularly scheduled days off (however they are normally there as it is a full time residence). The only other area of the County that has a Resident Deputy is Newhalem. They are assigned on a two year rotation, however most choose to stay beyond the 2 years. In January of 2019, Point Roberts will be getting a new deputy who is excited about the opportunity to serve your community.

"Due to vacation, injury/illness, bereavement or training there may be times when there is not a deputy on the Point. The Resident Deputies are available for after hours callout. Unless they are on vacation, it is rare that both deputies are off the Point at the same time."

Questions: Having never heard of Newhalem, I looked it up. Wikipedia says it is a “company town” not open to permanent residents who do not work directly for Seattle City Light and Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Do those companies reimburse the county for their resident deputy?

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Yes, they provide funding and housing for that deputy.

"Seattle City Light does provide funding to the County for law enforcement services, as well as provides a house in the town of Newhalem for the Resident deputy. While Newhalem is primarily home to Seattle City Light employees, it sees a significant increase in visitors to the area during the spring and summer due to its proximity to the North Cascades National Park, two large campgrounds, the town of Diablo and surrounding residences, as well as a park, visitors center and store. Many people come to the area to enjoy the recreational opportunities around Diablo and Ross Lakes and the associated dams. Hwy 20 runs through Newhalem for motor vehicles travelling from western Washington to Winthrop and eastern Washington and results in significant traffic which necessitates enforcement of traffic laws, as well as investigating traffic collisions."

Questions: How are their hours broken down: patrolling vs. paperwork, training, etc.? For example, 8 hours each over certain days or a few hours every day?

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It varies based on need.

"Both Resident Deputies have a scheduled 40 hour workweek, with their schedules staggered and overlapping to maximize coverage to the community. They do have the flexibility to adjust their schedules if needed to attend community events, testify in court and/or attend training. So they may work more hours one day and then adjust hours the next so that they end up with 40 hours at the end of the week. As far as patrol time vs. paperwork, it is dependent on calls for service and the nature of the crime that needs to be documented. We want them to be a visible presence, but also vary their patrols so that a potential suspect could not pattern their activity."

Questions: It appears the deputies here spend most of their time on traffic violations (speeding, rolling through stop signs, DUI) and a sprinkling of domestics through the year. Does the department keep statistics for the kinds of crimes here and is there a very high level breakdown, such as crimes against persons vs property? Could I get a copy or a very quick run down?

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The majority of their time is spent on traffic enforcement and patrolling. The number of calls for service is very small compared to the rest of the County.

"I would concur that the majority of their time is spent on traffic enforcement and visible patrols in order to deter criminal activity. The numbers of calls for service on the Point is very small compared to the rest of the County, thus their duties are generally self-initiated. Due to their resident status and consideration for being callout out in the middle of the night or on days off, they are not required to be out patrolling for 8 hours a day. I will work on getting you a summary of calls for service on the Point via our Records section."

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