by Richard Uhlhorn
At a public forum held at the Chelan Fire and Rescue meeting room on Thursday, January 26, leadership from the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office presented information to a full house on changes within the department.
Chelan County’s newly elected Sheriff Mike Morrison stated that the department is making a number of changes in how it operates. “We have increased patrols in our county,” said Morrison. He also mentioned that command staff has changed. One notable change is Sgt. Rob Huddleston being reassigned to the Chelan office. “He is back in his old position and committed to Chelan and Manson.”
In addition, Sgt. Ryan Moody has taken over the position of Chief of Special Operations. “We are doing more and more programs including more traffic enforcement,” stated Morrison. “We will be working with the Forest Service and State Parks.”
Morrison is adding five deputies to marine patrol duty, two of whom will be fulltime. “It needs to be a priority to make people behave themselves. Our school resource people will be moved to the marine patrol during the summer.”
“I’m not pulling from my patrol to cover other areas. I’m taking card of my campaign promises,” said Morrison. “We are taking on issues in our communities.”
One major issue is drugs and Morrison stated that the department will be working with the Federal agencies to help stem the flow of drugs in the area. Fentanyl is one of the bigger problems currently. “We can come up with solutions.”
Morrison added that the department is close to full staffing and said, “No one has quit. Two more are coming in which will put us at full staffing.” He is increasing salaries to be more competitive with other agencies in order to retain staff. “I’m only 19 days in,” stated Morrison.
Chelan County Jail:
Sheriff Morrison was preceded by the director of the jail, Chris Sharp. Sharp has been with the corrections department for 23 years. He worked under eight other directors and said he was going to break the cycle.
“We’ve made a lot of steps. The building is 35 years old and not up to standards.” However Chelan County has added a $500,000 camera system that gives the correction staff a lot more accountability.
In addition to the camera system, Sharp said they have installed a body scanner and a mail scanner and the department is only the second corrections center in the State with a dedicated drug sniffing canine that has been trained to detect five different odors. “We’ve seen an 80 to 90 percent decrease in drugs entering the jail. The dog has hit a home run with two finds; one of which was 59 Fentanyl pills.”
The canine will also work with school districts and Sharp hopes to get approved to check lockers. “I’m very proud of this program.”
The mail scanner cannot be used on legal mail coming in without permission of the detainee.
“Our big problem is Fentanyl,” said Sharp. “We are not a hospital… we are a jail.” The department has 41 isolation cells where detainees are incarcerated while they detox from any drugs in their system. “Seventy percent of those arrested are coming in with Fentanyl in them,” said Sharp. “This is hitting us hard.” Over the past 11 days Sharp said they processed 90 people with 60 of them with traces of Fentanyl in them.
They have a fulltime nurse but have seven position open for nursing staff. “They can go to work elsewhere for more money than we can pay them.”
Manson resident Chris Willoughby suggested that the department look into hiring EMTs that are looking for full-time work.
“I am humbled to be the leader,” said Sharp.
Behavioral Health Unit:
Anna Thompson, the head of the Behavioral Health Unit, described and shared via a paper presentation what her unit does. It is a relatively new operation that responds to calls and referrals for individuals in a behavioral health crisis, or at risk for crisis.
“We respond to all calls,” said Thompson. “We are trained in a lot of different topics.” This includes EMS procedures.
In December alone, the unit responded to 602 calls for help, most of which were mental health related.
Forty eight percent are substance abuse related calls. Many need help with obtaining shelter. Chelan Valley Hope (CVH) has been a great resource for the unit. CVH has received a $250,000 grant to help.
The unit responds to calls for individuals with a behavioral health issue who are at risk of arrest or who have been arrested and referred to the appropriate social services/treatment.
The unit helps law enforcement reduce its time dealing with time spent on behavioral health issues and it helps reduce the number of arrests and emergency department admissions.
Law enforcement takes initial calls and then refers the case to BHU who can take the lead, however, continue to coordinate with law enforcement for additional support. The unit also coordinates with Emergency Medical Services.
In other County news:
At the beginning of the meeting, Commissioner Tiffany Gearing updated those present to issues the County is facing.
She said that the County continues to receive many questions regarding Stehekin, particularly the road to Cottonwood. “It’s been 20 years. A number of elected officials have worked on this issue including Senator Parlette.”
Gearing said the County is still working with the National Park Service. The commissioners will be meeting with the new NPS Director Don Stryker. “We are opposed to the Grizzly bear reintroduction. It is not a good idea to reintroduce an Apex predator where people recreate.”
The County is working on woody debris removal on Lake Chelan. Woody debris is a public safety hazard for boaters and swimmers, however, removal has several regulations to overcome like size and weight. “The PUD has $120,000 in an account for woody debris removal.”
Gearing stated that the County has $3.4 million in their lodging tax account that is not being spent. They have awarded $300,000 for capital projects.
Gearing remarked that some of those reserves could be used to build the trail between Manson and Chelan (Northshore Pathway).
The County will be receiving the first of two Federal Rescue dollars of $3.5 milion. “We are looking good for 2023,” she added.