The city’s police are changing who they arrest as law enforcement grapples with reducing the number of inmates in Whatcom County Jail since voters rejected a sales tax increase to pay for a new facility.
“We try to do it with only those who need to be taken off the streets immediately, and there are no other options,” Ferndale Police Chief Michael Knapp told the City Council’s Finance and Administration Committee on Feb. 10.
For example, the chief said, police found a man who had 11 DUIs, sitting in his car and drinking a beer. He was intoxicated and had his 9-year-old child in the car with him. The man, who was drunk, agreed to hand over his child to a sober passenger.
Police impounded his car so he couldn’t drive, but they didn’t arrest him.
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The decision also had to do with new legal challenges in such cases. Police have been losing cases where someone has been arrested for drinking alcohol in a vehicle that is off the road and deemed not to be creating an immediate safety hazard, the chief explained.
“We’re trying to find ways not to take everyone to jail,” Knapp said. He couldn’t be reached later for additional comment.
Ferndale police arrested about 400 people last year.
The committee listened as Knapp outlined options for where the city could transfer its inmates when Sheriff Bill Elfo reduces the number of people held in jail.
$48.75Minimum daily cost per inmate to send a prisoner to Yakima County Jail, with no additional cost for transportation.
$157 Daily cost per inmate to send a prisoner to the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) in Des Moines, not including transportation costs.
How many of Ferndale’s inmates would be housed elsewhere and how often isn’t known yet.
City officials would prefer to have them sent to Yakima, which would cost $48.75 to $54.75 a day per inmate with no additional cost for transportation.
The South Correctional Entity, known as SCORE, would cost $105 per inmate per day, had Ferndale committed to paying for a certain number of beds whether the city used them or not.
Instead, it opted to pay $157 per inmate a day.
“That’s not attractive to a lot of people. We plan never to use it,” Knapp said, adding that the SCORE facility would be there in the event that Elfo has to reduce overcrowding during winter when officials may not be able to get over the mountain pass to Yakima because of snow.
The SCORE cost doesn’t include transportation.
If one wanted to lay fault here it’s not on Ferndale. We are in this dilemma because there is no new jail.
Ferndale Police Chief Michael Knapp
There was concern about inmates sent out of Whatcom County being able to communicate with their lawyers and being separated from family.
Knapp didn’t think representation would be an issue because he expected Ferndale inmates to be sent at a time when their needs for a lawyer aren’t as high.
As for separating inmates from their family support, Knapp said: “This is exactly what’s happened. That’s not our fault. If one wanted to lay fault here it’s not on Ferndale. We are in this dilemma because there is no new jail.”