200 IN REVIEWCity of Blaine Police

Published on Thu, Feb 8, 2001 by Chief Bill Elfo

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200 IN REVIEW
City of Blaine Police

By Chief Bill Elfo

The men and women at the Blaine Police Department wish to express their appreciation for the tremendous support we have received from the community over the past 12 months. Protecting our town requires an effective partnership between police and the people we serve.

School Program
Protecting the area of the Blaine school campus remains a top priority for the police department. While we are unable to assign an officer full-time to the school, one patrol officer is assigned collateral duties as a school resource officer and regularly maintains formal and informal contact with students and staff at all grade levels.

A Police outreach office, established on campus in 1999, was enhanced by the gift of a computer system from the school’s insurance carrier. To increase visibility on campus and to facilitate more frequent staff/student contact, officers are encouraged to complete reports and paperwork at the Outreach Office rather than the police station. As a result of relationships maintained with students, police were able to thwart some serious planned criminal activities on campus and solve others.

At the start of the school year, a state grant fully funded the cost of increasing patrols in the area of the campus. The police department and school administrators regularly meet to discuss matters of mutual concern and have a very good working relationship.

Border-related Crime
In 2000, the community experienced a serious problem with traffickers carrying contraband through residential neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night. Some of the offenders were believed to be armed and dangerous.

To combat this problem, police arranged to have the Whatcom Interagency Narcotics Team (WIN-T) officer assigned to the DEA work primarily with the Customs-Border Patrol-RCMP International Border Enforcement Team. The WIN-T is funded completely by federal resources and assets seized from felons. Patrol officers also work very closely with Border Patrol agents to combat these problems.

Drunk Driving
Drunk and dangerous drivers remain a serious problem for our community. The police department has a “zero tolerance” policy with respect to drunk driving and in 2000, officers arrested 85 persons on drunk driving offenses.
While the arrest rate is down from 135 drunk driving arrests in 1999, the Blaine police department has by far the highest ratio of DWI arrests per officer of any law enforcement agency in Whatcom County. While part of this arrest rate is attributable to drunk drivers being detected by inspectors at the port of entry, many offenders were apprehended in town.

To help combat drunk driving, the police department sponsored a “mock DWI crash scene” and a “DWI survivor panel” at the high school just prior to the prom. Surveys conducted by school officials revealed this program had a profound effect on student attitudes with regards to drunk driving. The police department also participated in a grant-funded county-wide DWI emphasis patrol that pooled the resources of all law enforcement agencies in Whatcom County to conduct highly visible and concentrated DWI patrols at various locations including Blaine.

Due to jail overcrowding, officers are usually unable to book drunk drivers into the county jail. This resulted in persons released from custody at the police department reclaiming their vehicles and being re-arrested within minutes on a second DWI charge. To correct this situation, the Blaine City Council enacted an ordinance requiring that vehicles belonging to persons arrested for DWI are held for a minimum of 48 hours and not released to persons who are obviously intoxicated.

Hopefully the decrease in drunk driving arrests experienced in 2000 is a fruit of these varied efforts.

Rape
Police experienced a sharp increase in the number of reported rapes. Most victims were children who were violated by persons known to their family. To help ensure credible investigations, officers received special training in interviewing child victims and in investigating these types of offenses.

Fraud
Canadian concerns involved in unscrupulous telemarketing scams have used Blaine post office and private mail boxes to receive payments from victims around the world.

While neither the Blaine police nor the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney possess resources adequate to investigate and prosecute these cases, a significant case developed by the Blaine police and later turned over to the FBI resulted in a joint FBI-RCMP Task Force that prosecuted a number of individuals on both sides of the border.

One defendant active in Blaine and apprehended by Blaine police received an eight-year federal prison sentence. The detective was commended by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for his involvement in this case.

Traffic Education & Enforcement
The police department strived to emphasize education as well as enforcement and engineering to help curb traffic-related problems and complaints.

A radar reader board that displays the speed of vehicles along with the posted speed limit was acquired through the generous donations of several businesses, individuals and the school system. Four state of the art radar units were acquired through a state grant.

Studies reveal that properly installed child car seats save lives. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these devices are improperly installed. The police department sponsored several clinics to inspect and demonstrate the proper installation of child car seats. An officer remains available to inspect anyone’s child car seat upon request. A grant was obtained to provide child seats to those who otherwise do not have the financial means to purchase one. Officers also sponsored a child bicycle safety clinic.

The police department worked with the Blaine public works department and the state department of transportation to effect several engineering and sign changes.

State Road 543
While plans are on the state department of transportation’s drawing board to make major changes on SR 543, this roadway remains a major concern for the Blaine police department.

Traffic back-ups associated with the border, southbound speeding vehicles and the blocking of intersections have combined to create a very hazardous situation. Several very serious accidents have occurred at the intersection of Boblett Street and SR 543 and the police department feels that if corrective action is not forthcoming, it will only be a matter of time before someone is killed.

The police department has worked with senator Georgia Gardner’s office and the state DOT to try and achieve some temporary and permanent solutions to this problem.

Police Communication System
The Blaine police department and the U.S. Border Patrol have for years worked very closely to provide mutual support and solve problems concerning both agencies.

An integral part of that cooperation for the past 50 years involved the Border Patrol and the police department sharing a common communications system. Earlier this year, the parent agency of the Border Patrol attempted to remove the police department from the communications system.

This effort was resisted by high ranking Border Patrol officials. With the help of Border Patrol Chief Carey James and former Representative Jack Metcalf’s office, an agreement was reached that will allow the Blaine police department (as well as Sumas and Lynden) to remain on the system at no cost. While the police department will need to upgrade its radio system to remain compatible with new Border Patrol radio technology, the cost of these upgrades was far less than what would have been experienced had the city been required to pursue other avenues for police communications.

Jail Alternative Program
Due to increases imposed by Whatcom County, the cost of jail and jail alternative programs are anticipated to double in 2001. To reduce costs and ensure effective justice, the police department and the probation officer worked cooperatively to establish a Blaine-operated work release program. Selected inmates report to work on public works maintenance projects on Saturdays and receive one day jail credit for each day worked. Inmates pay a $20 fee to help defray the cost of supervision. The end result is that costly processing of inmates through county programs is avoided and the city receives the direct benefit of the inmate’s labor. The police department is also pursuing the possibility of using a system of electronic home monitoring to further reduce incarceration costs.

Police Reserves
Volunteer members of the Blaine police department donated 4,682 hours of service to the community. This is the functional equivalent of over two full-time officers. Reserve officers are used to increase highly visible patrols and to perform other duties commensurate with the experience and training levels.

To ensure the city is adequately covered, reserves are frequently called in at all hours of the day and night to transport prisoners to the county jail and mentally disturbed persons to facilities in Bellingham. In 2000, a member of the Blaine police reserve was hired to fill a vacancy for a full-time officer’s position in the police department.

Suspended Drivers
The Blaine Municipal Court and the police department are plagued with a high volume of drivers cited or arrested on suspended license violations. Because of the lack of jail space and programs, often there is insufficient incentive for persons to comply with these laws.

The city council enacted an ordinance requiring that vehicles owned by those driving while license suspended be impounded for time periods commensurate with the seriousness of the violation. It is hoped that this will reduce the number of persons who commit this offense, enhance traffic safety and free up the time of court and police personnel.

Non-violent Felony and Juvenile Offenses
The Whatcom County prosecuting attorney’s office is responsible for prosecuting all felony and juvenile offenses. While the prosecuting attorney’s office has an excellent staff of skilled prosecutors, it has the lowest ratio of attorneys to defendants in the state and is seriously overloaded with work. The result is that non-violent felony and juvenile offenses are not a high-priority and cases take a long time for resolution.

Victims sometimes become frustrated with police over these delays, but we lack control over the situation. Adding prosecutors and staff to the prosecuting attorney’s office is an issue that Whatcom County’s government will need to tackle.

Jail Space
The lack of jail space in Whatcom County is creating a crisis. Dangerous offenders are regularly released from police custody because the jail will not accept them. Even those with warrants for failure to appear in court on criminal charges are regularly turned away because of a lack of jail space.

Studies have clearly demonstrated the need for additional jail space. It is imperative that the county solve this problem as quickly as possible.

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