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Bellingham changes jail contract to avoid booking restrictions

Bellingham has asked to change its jail use agreement with Whatcom County so city officers will no longer be restricted from booking people into the downtown Whatcom County Jail, shown in this March 26, 2015, photo.
Bellingham has asked to change its jail use agreement with Whatcom County so city officers will no longer be restricted from booking people into the downtown Whatcom County Jail, shown in this March 26, 2015, photo. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The City Council on Monday, Aug. 29, unanimously agreed to change Bellingham’s jail contract with Whatcom County in order to eliminate booking restrictions at the downtown jail.

Other jail users in the county had all agreed to remove inmates within hours following their first court appearance if Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo deemed the population at the downtown jail was getting too high.

But because Bellingham couldn’t realistically promise it would be able to move its inmates within four hours of a first appearance, city staff said they negotiated an “Option 2,” to allow the city more flexibility and time to plan if and when inmates were required to be moved to Yakima County Jail or the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) facility south of Seattle.

As an Option 2 user, Bellingham was the only city subject to booking restrictions for more than a month this summer as the downtown jail population approached a 212-inmate cap set by the sheriff.

On two occasions Bellingham officers transported people all the way to SCORE to be booked, while in other cases they cited and released some people instead of booking them into jail when restrictions were in place, including people suspected of driving under the influence, who were turned over to someone sober, Bellingham Police Deputy Chief David Doll told City Council members Monday afternoon.

With email confirmation from Elfo that the booking restrictions would not be necessary if the city agreed to the conditions of “Option 1” like all other cities, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville asked that the city be put on that option.

Elfo confirmed in an interview that booking restrictions would not be applied under Option 1.

“But they will have to transfer their people out of the facility like everybody else,” he said. “I think all the jurisdictions are going to find Option 1 provides them with the flexibility to at least get people off the street at the hour that is most needed and then transport them out of there in a reasonable time.”

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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