Category Archives: Whatcom County Jail

Case Study: Pennington County Jail, SD

County Information
There are many examples that could be studied to have a good grasp of what a proper jail facility that meets all pertinent national corrections standards. I picked this one because of the total cost of the two phase jail expansion project. $18 million. You read that right, $18 million dollars to expand and replace their existing 276 bed facility. (Ref: 11th paragraph)

Pennington County, South Dakota, aside from not having a border exposure like we do here, along with a smaller county population of approximately 108,242 (based on current U.S. Census data), does have some interesting factors that bring it into a rough equivalence with Whatcom County.

Namely Rapid City with a population of 70,812Ellsworth Air Force Base,  Thief River Falls Regional Airport and Mount Rushmore National Park, all of which bring considerable business, tourism and travel to Pennington County. Ellsworth Air Force Base is a military base obviously, but it is also essentially an international airport which USAF personnel and retirees use for ‘space A’ travel.

Having said all of that, Pennington County is not the same as Whatcom County and I’m not suggesting it is, but there are still many useful comparisons that can be drawn from studying their jail expansion project evolution. It all seems to have been very well thought out, well planned and perhaps the more interesting point,….with agreement and support from all county stakeholders.

“The current capacity of Pennington County Jail is 580, not including the 20 holding cells in the Booking area. The Pennington County Jail continues to embrace progress as it adapts to meet the ever changing needs of the citizens of Pennington County.” (Ref: last paragraph.)

Ref: Pennington County Jail History

The Jail Project
The jail expansions happened in two major phases resulting in construction and timely completion.

PHASE I: Pennington County Jail Annex, Pennington County, South Dakota, Skyline Engineering (Completed in 2006.) (Click link for downloadable pdf of Jail engineering doc from Skyline Engineering, LLC.)

The Pennington County Jail project included:
—A new 4-story, 128 bed multi-level security facility.
—Two full floors of additional shelled space for future development.
—The building is situated on the Courthouse Complex campus, adjacent to the Public Safety Building and the existing Jail.
—A new connector from the central plant to the facility.
—A three level parking structure was also included in the project.
—92,000 square feet.

Construction cost: $10 million

PHASE II: Pennington County Jail Expansion Project, Skyline Engineering (Completed in 2009.) (Click link for downloadable pdf of Jail expansion engineering doc from Skyline Engineering, LLC.)

—Completed two additional floors.

— 41,500 SF project involved finish of the shelled spaces.
—The second floor was finished to include 58 beds of minimum-security configured in sleeping bays.
—The third floor was finished for 24 cells of medium-security.
—Added 8 cells of maximum-security space.
—Additional dayrooms, showers, recreation spaces, multipurpose spaces and support facilities were developed for each finished level.
—The Mechanical and electrical designs extended the existing systems to support the new spaces.

Construction Cost: $5,800,000
Total jail project cost: $15.8 Million.

—The footprint of this building would easily fit in the parking lot adjacent to the Whatcom County Courthouse and would actually INCREASE parking as well as inmate capacity.
—The footprint of this structure would easily fit on the property already owned and permitted on Division Street too.
—In either location, the jail logistical/transport issues have already been worked out.

Why couldn’t an additional floor or two (or more) of maximum security space be added to this design for the Courthouse parking lot area or Division Street? A floor or two could also be added for alternative/medical/mental health services. They could be added subterranean to minimize building height.

In fact TWO more entire structures like this could be added to BOTH locations, as well as razing the current Sheriff’s Office/jail afterwards and building a brand new SO and it would still be a fraction of what we’re being told now.

Pennington County Sheriff’s Office
“The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has 372 employees, an annual budget of approximately $28 million, and serves over 100,000 citizens spread out over Pennington County’s 2,784 square miles. We also serve a high number of visitors and tourists to our area as Pennington County is home to Mount Rushmore National Monument and Ellsworth Air Force Base.”

“City/County Alcohol & Drug Programs (CCADP) – provides a safe place for individuals struggling with the difficulty of addiction. CCADP houses the City/County Detox Center and serves a host of other individuals through various treatment programs. We currently have a capacity of about 110 beds.”

“Jail – We are very proud of the fact that our 587 bed jail complies with the national standards set by the American Correctional Association, (ACA) which safeguard the life, health and safety of our staff and individuals incarcerated within our jail.”

Ref: Pennington County Sheriff, South Dakota

In conclusion, if certain people weren’t playing political games, this expansion could have already been completed AND PAID FOR years ago with existing funds. Instead, today, twelve years after the first .1% jail tax was approved, we are still mired in costly and complicated political games, political agenda strategies and the like, primarily from two camps.

This should be a done and over issue, which could have made way in time and resources for progress on other fronts of public safety concern which I’ll come back around to later.

(In-progress. I’m short on time at the moment, so I’ll finish up/edit this later. I just wanted to get the rough information out now while it’s being debated, instead of waiting.)

Joy Gilfilen For County Executive

Joy Gilfilen has thrown her hat in the ring for the position of Whatcom County Executive.

Updates can be found on her facebook page: Joy Gilfilen For Whatcom County Executive.

Joy has some good ideas on how to reduce local incarceration and how to get the local criminal justice apparatus to work in a more efficient manner for all concerned.

She’s also against the big county jail project.

Some would no doubt ask me why I would choose to support a candidate with so many different views than I have as a conservative.

In response, I’d tell them that #1: I know what real conservatism is and I also know what it is not. I’m not a ‘republican,’ I’m a conservative. They are not the same things. They once were, but they aren’t today.

Too many people have confused playing sides, as in the other half of the local (D) vs (R) Hegelian dialectic, as ‘conservatism.’ It’s not. True conservatism is actually very close to classical liberalism, sharing many aspects. Libertarianism and classical liberalism are very close cousins, both of which overlap significantly with real conservatism (Note *)

#2: I’ll support anyone that is upfront and honest about what they believe, even if I disagree personally, providing they are willing to let the people’s voices be heard and will allow that to override their own preferences when that’s been made clear in a true democratic fashion.

Joy meets both of my criteria and as such has my support.

Currently, there are officials trying to hoodwink citizens of this county in order to further expand government and further tax already overly tax burdened citizens.

As a real conservative, those are two things I cannot abide.

* : This writer does not condone or accept the classical European and neo-European views of the various political ideologies or the political spectrum. I prefer the Americanism views, which incorporated the best of the best of the world, created a Representative Constitutional Republic form of government of We The People and in doing so changed the world for the better.

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville

This is fascinating to me.

Bellingham Herald: ‘Bellingham mayor ‘still in a quandary’ over jail funding plan’

The supposed ‘liberal democrat’ is the one being conscious of and carefully considering the impact of this jail project on the taxpayer. Not the supposed ‘conservative republican.’ What a world we live in, huh?

“We’d like to help people first,” before booking them into jail, Linville said.

In her criticism of Louws’ draft of the jail agreement, Linville said she would like to see a clearer division in how the 0.1 percent tax, the proposed 0.2 percent tax and a separate 0.1 percent sales tax for mental health and addiction services would be spent. (The latter tax is not considered part of the 0.3 percent limit.)

“I would prefer a cleaner option, but we need a new jail,” Linville said.

So the tax ante appears to actually be up to .4% now. The Herald article points out that the existing .1% tax, added to the proposed .2% tax, will actually include an additional .1% tax for mental health services, even though the latter is considered exempt from the .3% tax limitation for public safety.

Linville is clearly in agreement with the need for a new facility, as many are, including this writer.

I would like to stand and applaud Mayor Linville for looking out for the little guy. That’s what every public official should be doing and it’s one thing that seems all but absent from most of the discussions I’ve heard and read about this jail.

Regional Jail?

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW), the laws of Washington State, has a lot to say about what a sheriff can and cannot do.

In writing this it occurs to me that I may have inadvertently stumbled across why the new jail has been referred in the past as a ‘regional jail’ or “regional justice center.’ I haven’t heard the phrase recently, so perhaps someone figured out that maybe wasn’t the best marketing approach?

I found this in the City and County Jails Act of RCW 70.48:

“70.48.095 Regional jails.

1) Regional jails may be created and operated between two or more local governments, or one or more local governments and the state, and may be governed by representatives from multiple jurisdictions.

(2) A jurisdiction that confines persons prior to conviction in a regional jail in another county is responsible for providing private telephone, video-conferencing, or in-person contact between the defendant and his or her public defense counsel.

(3) The creation and operation of any regional jail must comply with the interlocal cooperation act described in chapter 39.34 RCW.

(4) Nothing in this section prevents counties and cities from contracting for jail services as described in RCW 70.48.090.

[2002 c 124 § 1.]”

That’s very interesting. Based on the plain reading of this section, RCW 70.48.095, it would appear to me that there must be some type of formal (written) agreement between the City of Ferndale and Whatcom County in order to move a jail from the current county seat, Bellingham, to within the city limits of Ferndale, WA, which is not the county seat.

Also, I found the RCW that mentions the sheriff’s duties to keep an office within the county seat.

“RCW 36.28.160: Office at county seat.

The sheriff must keep an office at the county seat of the county of which he or she is sheriff.

[2009 c 105 § 3; 1963 c 4 § 36.28.160. Prior: 1891 c 45 § 2; RRS § 4158. SLC-RO-14.]”

Now, I have not found (yet) a definition of what exactly constitutes an office, so that could be as simple as a cubicle staffed by one deputy for courthouse operations and security.

If the main WCSO headquarters are located elsewhere, I can see where that could cause security concerns within the courthouse, county offices etc, unless there are additional deputies readily available in the event of an incident, multiple courtroom issues, etc.

This could have already been addressed somewhere, but if it has I haven’t come across it yet.

It just seems much simpler and easier to me, to convince the stakeholders and the taxpayers, to keep the jail within the city limits of Bellingham. For some reason though, Elfo, Louws et al, seem hell bent on getting the project out of Bellingham, even if the cost to taxpayers increases.

I’ve seen some pretty good designs, multi-level facilities that could incorporate multi-level and/or subterranean parking levels as part of a new jail and sheriff’s office. The parking lot adjacent to the courthouse has been suggested in the past by others and that would seem to me an ideal location.

A simple graphic to help illustrate:
Downtown Jail - Steve“What would the proposed 649 bed housing unit look like if it was placed in the downtown south parking lot? This is roughly to scale (based on the DEIS information released on the proposed facility). Reduce the number of cells and you have a reasonably sized jail downtown.

Right next to the courthouse, significantly reducing costs and ancillary expenses. The smart planner could even significantly boost parking space with a project like this. There was even talk at one time of an overhead elevated corridor between the jail and the courthouse to facilitate inmate appearances, interviews, meetings, etc.

New Jail Information & Crime Trends

Crime trends have been decreasing in the United States since the 90’s. Now to be clear, that’s a reference to rates, as opposed to numerical quantities, but the data is pretty clear that crime overall is decreasing in the US and has been since the 90’s.

This US crime trend graphic is based on FBI UCR data collected from all law enforcement agencies in the United States. That the data is pretty clear that crime is in fact on a decreasing trend, that’s a problem for people that want to build big expensive jails and plush sheriff ‘headquarters.’

US Crime Trends - 1960-2010- UCR

The graphic above stops at 2010, but to be sure, I went to FBI’s website to find the most current crime data and confirmed that the trend continues today based on the most current data.
Property Crime 2009-2013 - FBI Violent Crime 2009-2013 - FBI

Reference: FBI Property Crime data and FBI Violent Crime data pages.

The above data shows clearly that crime rates are in fact decreasing in the US. Similar data for Washington State shows trends in line with the above graphics, but I’ll have to add those later when I find them again.

Here’s one important aspect that is often overlooked by big government types who push these sorts of big projects, crime clearance rates. This is an important factor to consider as well and my experience has been that investigations are too often neglected and/or an underfunded police function. (I’m not blaming anyone or pointing fingers with this, because it’s much harder to accomplish than it might appear, trust me, but I don’t think it should be overlooked either.)

I’d suggest to you that it’s probably because there’s no money in it for the jail industry profiteers, which we’ll eventually get around to as well.

Crime Clearance Rates 2013 - FBI

Reference: FBI Crime Clearance data

The point of this information is that any discussions of increasing or growing incarceration capacities or capabilities needs to be within a context of understanding that includes acknowledging the decreasing crime trends.

I hadn’t checked in awhile, but I see that Whatcom County has done a very good job of providing one central place to find the supporting information for their case for the new jail project. It’s well organized, it looks nice and the information is easy to find. It’s well done.

I’m in the process of reviewing what has been posted (Whatcom County – New Jail Information) on the county website. It’s going to take some time to go through it all, but I thought I’d post it for anyone else who may have also been unaware.

Just a few early thoughts while I’m absorbing and digesting all of this new information. Fluff comes to mind. A lot of fluff. There is substance too, but it’s packaged in a bed of an awful lot of fluff. If it were such a clear and compelling need to do it the way that is being suggested, I would think a much simpler case could easily be made?

I couldn’t help but notice what appears to be an overly stringent adherence to, if not an embellishment of, national standards, law and higher federal authorities like the DOJ,….when it suits them, but when it doesn’t suit them,….not so much.

It’s clear the county exec, sheriff and I presume county prosecutor want a new facility done their way, but thus far I remain unconvinced that it’s a true necessity as presented, based on what I’ve seen so far, on other data and my own personal experiences. I do know this though, if there’s anyone that can fluff with the best of them, it’s Bill Elfo and he’s very smooth at it.

I’d like to hear about what is being done to enhance investigations, because Whatcom County’s crime clearance rates have not been the best either and surely would be in line with the national trends. I have a few examples to explore sometime later when time permits. One in particular I think you may find surprising.

One parting thought.

A key date is upcoming and I get the feel from the presentation that county officials feel that it’s already in the bag. ‘November 2015:  Ballot Measure for Sales Tax.’ The vote.

I’ve learned in discussions with others that state law allows for a maximum  .3% tax for public safety concerns. We already have a .1% tax for the interim jail facility on Division Street and I hear that the ballot measure will be for an additional .2% increase for the Labounty Rd. jail project. Hmmm.

The EHM Case Finale

The EHM Case Finale
(Since there wasn’t so much as a whisper of this in local ‘media.’) 

HR 1943 Bill Signing: The Official Photograph
The Governor’s Office, Olympia, Washington, May 18th, 2015

“I could (and have) said a lot about the state EHM problems leading to this moment, but I’ll put that aside now as a completed objective.

My heartfelt gratitude and personal thanks goes out to Scott Roberts and Glen Morgan of the Freedom Foundation, for investigating what I reported to them and for bringing the necessary scrutiny to this issue that ultimately led to the needed changes.

This is Governor Inslee signing into law the bill, HR1943, that passed unanimously through the Washington State Legislature. It was great to see legislators from both parties put aside partisanship to fix a serious public safety problem.

The new law defines, closes the existing loopholes and tightens regulations on existing electronic home monitoring (EHM) law, without creating new law. The perfect way to handle a problem such as this.

Fortunately, Scott and Glen, as well as the entire state legislature and Gov. Inslee, saw through the veil of deceit that Whatcom County officials threw up and around this issue.

I’m so very grateful for that and I now stand a vindicated man now for it.

Best regards,

     Paul Murphy

PS: Please excuse my ‘RV wear.’ We were literally enroute back home from a 2 week RV vacation through the Midwest when I got the call about the bill signing.”

Please forgive me for what may appear as a shameless self-promotion, but the local ‘media’ being what it is, unless I do so and tell you the story, you likely won’t hear one word of it otherwise.

Side Note:  Numerous attempts have been made in the past to get both the Bellingham Herald and KGMI radio to hear my side of the story. To this day, there has not been a single inquiry or response from either one, including the instances when KGMI radio wouldn’t even field or answer my phone calls in response to Dillon Honcoop and Bill Elfo’s on air bashings of me. Isn’t that special?

The EHM case, as it’s come to be known, has a long history that extends as far back as my troubles with Sheriff Bill Elfo do, to mid to late 2007. It’s one of two incidents that led to my running afoul of the incumbent sheriff, as one of his deputies, assigned at that time as a detective….the only time I can think of in my life when I was maligned and reprimanded for doing my job ‘too well.’

EHM is the acronym that stands for electronic home monitoring, meaning ankle bracelets and home detention. I don’t intend to re-litigate the entire sordid mess again here. That’s done and over as far as I’m concerned. That’s not the point of this, but a little backstory is necessary to get the picture of what led to the bill signing pictured above. I may link back to some past reports on the subject if there’s interest, but for now back to the bill signing.

The moment pictured above is my total vindication. Regardless of what Bill Elfo has conned people into believing, and has publicly stated on more than a few instances, the facts of the matter without my opinions, speak for themselves. The entire Washington State legislature and the current Governor of Washington State, by unanimously passing this bill, nodded in agreement.

Bottom line: I was right and I told the truth about all of it. Bill Elfo, David McEachran and Jack Louws were wrong and together orchestrated a number of internal circumstances to manufacture an end to my employment and my career in law enforcement.

So the day pictured above was an especially sweet vindication for me, personally.

The entire process seemed lengthy to me, but I’m told by those involved in the inner workings of Olympia that this bill made it through the process and to the Governor’s desk with lightening speed. Just shy of two years is what I understand. That it occurred with full bipartisan support speaks volumes to me about the necessity and the ability of those involved to see beyond parties and do what was right for public safety.

House Bill 1943 was the culmination of the efforts of many people without whose efforts, time, research, travel to Whatcom and other counties, etc., conducting their own investigation of what I reported, none of this would have happened at all. (This was necessary because of the veil of deceit and the manner in which the primary investigator, me, was marginalized by Whatcom County officials and maligned in the process. Please understand, this county went into full cover-up and denial mode over this.)

So my heartfelt thanks and gratitude go out to Scott Roberts and Glen Morgan, both of the Freedom Foundation at the time although I understand that Glen Morgan is now a free agent pursuing other interests.

They heard what I told them and took the time to look into what I reported. As unusual or unbelievable as it probably sounded to them at the time, they soon found on their own, through their own due diligence, that it was just as I said, perhaps that I had even understated it somewhat.

Anyway, without Scott and Glenn, it wouldn’t have happened at all and for that I’m eternally grateful. Rep. Matt Shea, the sponsor of the bill, has my gratitude as well because without a bill there can’t be a bill signing right? As well as Rep. Roger Goodman, who co-sponsored the bill.

Chris Ingalls of King 5 News also helped immensely.  Home monitoring reforms signed into law-King 5 The King 5 Investigates ‘Home Free’ series on the EHM problems throughout the state brought awareness to the problem that had previously been non-existent. Although I have not seen footage of it, Chris interviewed me in my home about this problem back when it was first being scrutinized by the Freedom Foundation. (I’ve seen no attribution to that effect, but I don’t think King 5 was aware of the problem beforehand.)

As to the backstory, for those who are curious and want to know more, here are a few links that should explain what happened, why and how I ran afoul of Bill Elfo, David McEachran and other Whatcom County officials:

Electronic Home Monitoring Fraud Investigation – The Genesis (A slideshare I put together to help people understand what happened and why.)

King Co. judges still letting violent suspects out on home detention – King 5 Home Free series

Electronic Home Monitoring-Are Criminals Left Unwatched?– Freedom Foundation

Whatcom County settles suit with ex-deputy, whistle-blower – Olympia Report

Whatcom County Settles Suit with Ex-Deputy, Whistle-Blower – Freedom Foundation

Whatcom County Jail

WCSO Jail - Front

Okay, here we go. Where to begin? There are many issues of importance and significance facing citizens of Whatcom County, Washington.

Some are more or less than others and some are insignificant in my estimation. I imagine we’ll get around to most of them in time, so let’s just dive in and get down to it. Of the issues of greater significance to all that I’m aware of, chief amongst those at the present time, in my estimation, are the current plans for a replacement county jail.

First, before going any further, I feel obligated to say upfront that I’m kind of diving into the middle of this without the benefit of being fully informed of the current status. I am aware of many aspects though and have been following the posts of others who have been very active in the process, so where I’m not fully up to speed now, I intend to be very soon.

Second, I do have considerable knowledge of the backstory of the jail evolution from an insider perspective as a former Deputy Sheriff of Whatcom County. I’ve been inside many times as a function of my former duties and have the benefit of many previous contacts, personal conversations, first hand observations and the like. Point is, I’m pretty familiar with how this current push came about and how it’s evolved into what it is now.

With that in mind, we do need a replacement jail. I don’t think there’s a reasonable argument to that. We have had need of a new jail for some time now. I’ve seen the damages, the wear, the broken items, the cracks in the walls, etc. However, something is amiss in the reasoning we’re all being media blitzed with now.

Currently, the county has completed the purchase of the new jail site property on LaBounty Rd. in Ferndale, just west of the intersection with Sunset Ave. The price tag for that piece of property was $6 million as I understand it. The recent Bellingham Herald article indicated that the price tag for the project has reached a new high of approximately $135 million (Yes, you read that right) and that’s where I’d like to begin.

For a county of this size, 208,351 (according 2014 US Census data), or approximately 1/34th of the total for Washington State’s 39 counties combined, doesn’t that register as being a bit on the high side? Quite a bit, I think and a number of questions come to mind as well, like how did we get from the need for a basic jail, to what appears to be a plan for a Taj Mahal jail?

This is cause for concern on the expenditure alone, but let’s go beyond that to a couple of examples of jails that haven’t turned out so well in spite of every assurance by elected officials to the contrary on the front end.

Once finished, Thurston County’s brand new $50 million dollar jail, completed 4 years ago…..hadn’t seen a single inmate as of the date of this 2014 article in The Olympian. The reason? Funding. Apparently the actual operating costs came as a complete surprise to local Thurston County officials.

Next we look to Wayne County, Michigan (Detroit), where officials conned the voters into building a $300 million dollar jail, broke ground 4 years prior and spiraling costs forced the project to be shut down 4 years ago. Detroit finally pulled the plug on the project and it is now unfinished AND costing taxpayers $1.2 million per month in debt service and upkeep just to maintain the incomplete albatross facility.

The comments of Rose Bogaert, head of the Wayne County Taxpayers Association and chair of the Michigan Taxpayer Alliance said it all for me:

“The Wayne County Jail was a mess since it was created. At this point, the only thing we should do is cut our losses…. If someone is willing to purchase it, we should sell it. Everyone knows that these projects never stay within budget, and this one was in a bad location to begin with,” she added. “It never made sense. There needs to be more thought put into these projects before they start building.”

Yes. I agree. That’s the thing that this taxpaying resident sees missing from the discussion and reporting on this jail project and that’s what needs to be addressed right now.

This part was particularly intriguing to me:

“The Wayne County Jail was originally proposed as a $300 million, 2,000-bed jail that would combine the other county correctional facilities. Ground was broken on the work site in September 2011, but was stalled nearly two years later, in June 2013, when a 60-day suspension was imposed after projected cost overruns totaled nearly $100 million. Construction never resumed, and later that summer, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the project.

The investigation led to the arrest of former Wayne County Chief Financial Officer Carla Sledge, attorney Steven Collins and construction manager Anthony Parlovecchio.”

Supporters will no doubt say, ‘Well, that’s Detroit.’ While that may be true, I’d counter that $135 million dollars for a relatively small county, population-wise, even with our border exposure and special considerations that come with it, still just doesn’t add up.

Additionally, the way this jail project is being undertaken gives additional cause for alarm.

Post script:
I did some figuring on my handy calculator and came up with this. Based on current US Census data, the total county population is 208,351 persons. If you subtract from that number those under 18 years of age and those over 65, roughly 35.2% of those persons are not in the labor force, or 73,339 persons.

That leaves approximately 135,012 county residents who would potentially be earning wages and paying taxes (at full employment, which we all know it’s not). So the best case is approximately $1,000 per person in additional jail tax today, assuming the project remained within budget.