Taking deputies off the streets
Laura Leady has lived in her neighborhood outside Kent for 20 years, and recently she's seen some unwelcome changes. Neighbors have had their...
Times Southeast Bureau
Current staffing levelsThe King County Sheriff's Office has nine to 11 deputies staffing Precinct 3, a 900-square-mile area of Southeast King County. King County Executive Ron Sims' proposed 2008 budget cuts nine positions from the Sheriff's Office, taking six patrol deputies and one patrol sergeant off the streets in Southeast King County. Sheriff's officials haven't decided how many patrol officers it would have to cut from each shift, but here is the current breakdown:
Day shift: Weekdays, nine deputies; Saturday and Sunday, 10 deputies
Swing shift: 11
Night shift: 10
Source: King County Sheriff's Office
Current response timesPriority X calls are the most critical. Priority 1 calls are the second most critical. Precinct 3 divides its officers into two separate patrol groups.
G Sector: Priority X call-response time: 4.3 minutes. Priority 1 call-response time: 10.9 minutes
F Sector: Priority X call-response time: 7.3 minutes. Priority 1 call-response time: 16 minutes.
Source: King County Sheriff's Office
Laura Leady has lived in her neighborhood outside Kent for 20 years, and recently she's seen some unwelcome changes. Neighbors have had their cars broken into. One woman on her block had her home burglarized while she was in the shower.
Leady called the King County Sheriff's Office to request patrols in her neighborhood. She left messages but didn't get a call back. She never sees deputies patrolling and wonders how the Sheriff's Office could afford to lose any more deputies.
County Executive Ron Sims' 2008 budget proposal would take six deputies and one sergeant off patrol in unincorporated Southeast King County. Sheriff's officials say this would have catastrophic consequences to public safety. Cutting patrol deputies in the 900-square-mile area would raise response times and make preventive community policing impossible.
"It's frustrating for us," Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said. "It's very frustrating for the citizen that calls us."
Sims proposes eliminating nine positions — six patrol deputies, one patrol sergeant, one school-resource officer and one 911 dispatcher. The employees will be reassigned to other jobs in the department, Urquhart said.
More than $900,000 in cuts to the Sheriff's Office budget are necessary because the department's work load will decrease when two Auburn annexations take affect Jan. 1, Sims says.
"We're not telling them how to do their jobs ... but if you look at the map, they're losing a huge chunk of territory, and they don't have to serve it anymore," said Kurt Triplett, Sims' chief of staff.
Earlier this year, voters approved the annexations of Lea Hill and West Hill to Auburn. On Jan. 1, Auburn police will take responsibility for patrolling the 6.4-square-mile area that is home to about 15,000 residents.
Sims says the annexations and budget cuts won't take a toll on police service for the rest of unincorporated Southeast King County.
Sheriff's officials don't see how that's possible.
"You cannot cut cops without negatively affecting public safety," Urquhart said.
Deputies in unincorporated Southeast King County are already stretched thin.
Precinct 3, the Sheriff's Office patrol area in Southeast King County, covers the area from Interstate 90 to the Pierce County line and from the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to city limits of Auburn, Kent and Renton.
On any given shift, nine to 11 deputies are assigned to Southeast King County. But that doesn't mean that's how many deputies are patrolling. Forty-four percent of the time, a patrol deputy is off the streets and booking suspects into jail, Sheriff's Capt. Dan Pingrey said.
The geography of the Southeast patrol area makes it challenging for deputies to respond to calls, especially if the call warrants that more than one deputy respond, Pingrey said.
One patrol is isolated from the rest by the traffic-congested valley floor. If a deputy needs backup, another might not be able to get there quickly.
Response times in Precinct 3 are close to law-enforcement standards right now, but they would increase if the proposed cuts are approved, Urquhart said.
It's not ideal for deputies to spend their time running from one 911 priority call to the next, Pingrey said.
Ideally, they should spend about a third of their shift patrolling and doing proactive policing, Pingrey said.
If the cuts are approved, Southeast King County residents say, already slim police services would worsen in unincorporated areas. "It's gotten to the point where people don't even call  because they don't respond," said Leady, the Kent-area resident.
Leady said she rarely sees Sheriff's deputies patrolling her neighborhood. She and her husband, Clayton Leady, are block-watch captains, and when they call police to report suspicious activity or gun shots, she says they always get the same answer: An officer's unavailable or on another call and will come by when available.
"It's quite frustrating," Laura Leady said.
Sims' proposal cuts the sheriff's budget, but it's up to King County Sheriff Sue Rahr to decide what to cut, Triplett said.
Lauren Vane: 253-234-8604 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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