Sheriff's office looking at budget cuts

As the Kitsap County commissioners try to decide how to trim the budget, the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) may be forced to lay off several deputies.

The commissioners asked county department heads to create plans for two scenarios — one cutting 4 percent from their budgets and the other eliminating 6 percent.

Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer said any cut to the sheriff's office would be too much and have a tremendous impact on the public.

"I fully understand the economy and that we're all in this together, but our goal has always been to build the best sheriff's office, not the cheapest," Boyer said.

Deputy Scott Wilson, KCSO spokesman, said a 4 percent cut to the sheriff's office patrol and investigative divisions' $18.5 million budget equals roughly $683,000, meaning seven deputies will be let go.

"It would be a rather serious effect on our abilities to provide adequate service to the county," Wilson said.

He said KCSO lost three positions in 2008 due to budget restraints and the department is now authorized to have 125 deputies. The department currently has 122 positions filled and with seven less deputies, KCSO would have 115 men and women.

"We are already one of the lowest staffed law enforcement offices in Washington and the nation for that matter," Wilson said.

Wilson said law enforcement agencies are supposed to have two officers for every 2,000 people in their area's population. He said KCSO's current minimum staffing requirements call for at least nine deputies to be on the roadways during a given shift, which is still a low number.

"It has not been that long ago when we had as few as five deputies on the road," Wilson said. "The sheriff will not send his people into harm's way without adequate backup."

If the KCSO budget was cut by 6 percent, Wilson said a little more than $1 million would be cut, resulting in 11 deputies being laid off, dropping the personnel strength down to 111.

"We've gotten to the point now where there is no more meat on the bone," Wilson said.

Boyer said the county has experienced a decreasing crime rate for years thanks to the men and women of the sheriff's office and believes if deputies are let go, the crime rate could increase.

"My guys have had eight years of decreasing crime rates in Kitsap County because of good people and good work," Boyer said. "Now is not the time to lay people off."

"We are in the economic development business, believe it or not," Wilson added. "If you have an area with a high crime rate, are you going to want to move your family or business there? Probably not."

Wilson said if deputies are let go, the public will be affected. He said it will take deputies longer to respond to calls; deputies will not respond to certain calls, such as 911 hang-ups and lowest priority crimes; KCSO would no longer be able to provide court security; school resource officers in North Kitsap and South Kitsap will be let go; and the three KCSO offices — in Port Orchard, Silverdale and Kingston — may be closed 25 percent of the time. The Kingston office could be forced to shut down entirely.

"These are all possibilities," Wilson said.

He said it costs about $100,000 to train deputies and get them the proper equipment, so it will cost more down the road to hire and train new employees if the economy picks back up.

"The whole hiring process takes quite a long time," Wilson said. "It just doesn't make economic sense."

The corrections division also will be impacted by budget cuts.

Wilson said a 4 percent cut to the Kitsap County jail staff would result in seven corrections officers being eliminated. With a 6 percent cut, 11 officer positions would be required to be vacated.

Both Wilson and Boyer said KCSO is working with the county commissioners and looking for alternative funding sources, such as grant money, should their budget be cut.

"It's a serious, serious problem that we're looking at and it's not like we've been sitting idly by and not doing anything," Wilson said. "We are looking at alternatives. We are working diligently with the county commissioners."

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