Here’s why arrests in Ferndale are up 122% in the first six months of the year

A look at Whatcom County Jail

Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey has said that bail reform is also a way to reduce incarceration rates, which would ease pressure on the aging Whatcom County Jail.
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Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey has said that bail reform is also a way to reduce incarceration rates, which would ease pressure on the aging Whatcom County Jail.

Jail bookings by the Ferndale Police Department are up 122% in the first six months of 2019 compared to the same time period last year, according to Whatcom County Jail quarterly data.

Ferndale is now accounting for roughly 6% of all bookings, the data shows.

The Ferndale Police Department is aware of the increase, and attributed the rise in arrests to a variety of factors, including adding a detective, proactive policing and jail booking restrictions, according to Riley Sweeney, a spokesperson for Ferndale police.

“Ferndale is one of the safest cities in Washington and it is because of the hard work of our local Ferndale Police Department. The Ferndale PD is community-focused and as we grow, continues to build those relationships, in the school and neighborhoods, to ensure that we keep people safe,” Sweeney said.

The police department added at third detective position in 2019. The position, which was originally part of a county-wide task force in 2018, was brought back to the department this year and averages around 30 to 40 arrests per month, Sweeney said. The detective was assigned Ferndale-based cases, with a focus on low-level drug dealers, sex crimes and prostitution, Sweeney said.

In the first half of 2019, Ferndale police booked 207 people into jail, out of a total of 3,251. Last year during the same time period, Ferndale police booked 93 people out of 3,188, the data shows. Information on how many of the arrests were for people who were booked multiple times, or for misdemeanors or felonies was not readily available.

Booking rates from other law enforcement agencies, including Washington State Patrol and the state Department of Corrections, held steady from 2018 to this year, the data shows.

Using data

Ferndale Police Chief Kevin Turner said the department is focused on being proactive within the community, which in turn reduces crime and leads to arrests of people with warrants. Turner said the department had a 30% increase in dispatch calls, follow-ups and requests for assistance in the first three months of 2019 compared to last year. That number has since gone down to about a 14.5% increase for the first six months of the year, Turner said.

Policing for the department is based on intelligence gathering, internally reviewing statistics and information gained through field contacts, he said. The department currently has 20 officers, with the latest hired in April 2018, and four support staff.

“We are shifting to a more intelligence-based policing, where we use big data to look at crime hot spot areas and trends,” Sweeney, the spokesperson, said.

Using the data has shifted how the department does patrols, he said. The data showed an uptick in crashes in a three-block radius around the Ferndale Main Street exit off Interstate 5, so the department focused patrols in the area, Sweeney said. This resulted in more arrests, because when officers pulled people over, they found some had active warrants, he said.

As a part of using data, the department also provides an interactive crime map that shows 911 calls for things like suspicious circumstances, property crime, violent crime and quality-of-life issues that date from Jan. 1 to the end of June. Users can put in an address or search for a specific place and see what crimes have occurred nearby. The map also gives a breakdown of the totals of various types of calls the department’s received.

Impacts on arrests

While Ferndale police have booked more people into jail, the city’s total jail costs are down, Sweeney said.

Jail costs are mainly calculated by how many bed days an agency uses. A bed day is considered to be any portion of a 24 hour period that someone might spend in jail. In the first six months of 2018, Ferndale Municipal Court used 1,202 bed days, according to the jail data. In 2019, the court used 957, accounting for a little less than 1.5% of all jail bed days, the data shows.

Sweeney said Ferndale Municipal Court Judge Mark Kaimin, who was appointed in January 2019, has favored shorter sentences, meaning people spend less time in jail. The average length of stay at the jail in 2018 was 12 days, but that has since dropped to nine days this year, according to jail data.

Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey said he wasn’t aware of the increase in arrests by Ferndale police, but said there could be reasonable explanations that fit within the goals and policies of the Whatcom community.

Richey said his office hasn’t noticed an increase in cases filed that originate from Ferndale.

The number of cases filed this year through the end of July in Ferndale Municipal Court is approaching the total for all of 2018, according to Washington state court data. In 2018, 1,723 total cases were filed, and so far this year 1,319 cases have been filed, the data shows.

“We work hard to protect the people of Ferndale. Sometimes that means more arrests, but at the end of the day, we are proud to be one of the safest cities in Washington State,” Turner, the police chief, said.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.