Safe Today... Safer Tomorrow

Sheriff Bill Elfo has spent his past and current term as Sheriff, working to make Whatcom County the safest in Washington.  More deputies are now available in our neighborhoods and are better equipped and trained, a jail work center has opened and criminals are no longer turned away because of the lack of jail space.  Sheriff Elfo has provided the leadership to ensure that financial costs associated with the international border and vulnerable infrastructure are supported by the federal government resulting in nearly $5 million of grants awarded to Whatcom County and our Cities.

Deputy Sheriffs have more Policing time Available

Through creative programs, technology and partnerships with Fire Districts, more Deputies are available in our neighborhoods at the times they are most needed.

Deputy Sheriffs begin and end work closer to the communities they serve and no longer change shifts near the downtown Courthouse resulting in an increase of 60 to 90 minutes per day of Deputy availability on the streets.  Through partnerships with local Fire Districts, Deputies are provided offices where they can conduct interviews and prepare cases while remaining close to the community they are responsible for policing.  Deputy Sheriff scheduling has also been arranged to ensure overlaps in patrol coverage during times when it is most needed.

Jail Booking Restrictions Eliminated

Decades long booking restrictions that prevented law enforcement from booking dangerous and repeat offenders were eliminated.  Drunk drivers, those who assault others, commit thefts and have warrants outstanding for their arrests are now booked into jail.

In response to jail overcrowding, artificial booking restrictions were implemented in the 1980s as a means to control the jail population and costs.  As the jail population increased, so did the scope of the restrictions.  Drunk drivers, persons committing assaults, thefts and other gross misdemeanor crimes were simply issued a ticket and set on their way.  When they failed to appear in court, as they often did, warrants would be issued for their arrest.  The restrictions prevented even those who warrants were issued for from being booked into jail.  Offenders were not held accountable and repeated crime with impunity.  Repeat criminals went as far as to taunt crime victims and officers about their inability to put them in jail.

Upon taking Office, Sheriff Elfo went quickly to work to reverse this trend.  Policies were revised to allow the booking of the most dangerous inmates on a “priority hold program.”  Simultaneously, Sheriff Elfo had the National Institute of Corrections review jail operations, policies and integrity at no cost to local taxpayers.

The National Institute of Corrections recommendations formed the foundation of an effort to quickly build and staff an interim jail work center and a longer range plan for a new main jail.  As part of this effort, Sheriff Elfo worked with the mental health community and corrections advocates to develop diversionary, work and educational programs into the plan.

Voters approved the plan and the interim jail work center opened on time and on budget adding space for 148 additional inmates, work programs and an adjoining mental health triage center.  Booking restrictions were lifted in late 2006 and dangerous and repeat offenders were removed from the streets and once again held accountable for their crimes.

Crime Rate Has Dropped

The crime rate in Whatcom County has dropped dramatically over the past five years.  Both the unincorporated areas and the County as a whole have seen a dramatic decrease in both violent and property crime that in most categories, exceed the state average.

In unincorporated Whatcom County burglaries are down 46.3%, larcenies are down 38.6% and auto theft is down over 59%.  Felony assaults are down 15.7%, rape is down 8.3% and robbery is down 8.6%.  The overall violent crime rate in unincorporated Whatcom County has dropped 6.3% and the property crime rate has dropped 40.7% since 2005.

While many factors affect crime rates, all law enforcement agencies in Whatcom County are working in partnership to prevent crime and offenders are no longer turned away because of the unavailability of jail space.

Neighborhood Deputy Program Created

Neighborhood Deputies are assigned to densely populated communities to address emerging crime and traffic issues.  Using community oriented policing strategies, Neighborhood Deputies are familiar with the communities they serve and are able to quickly respond to emerging issues.  A Crime Prevention Deputy performs similar duties in the more rural area of the County as do Resident Deputies in more distant and remote communities.

Over the past fiver years, the area served by the East County Neighborhood Deputy enjoyed a 73% reduction in the number of burglaries alone.

Special Response (SWAT) and Crisis Intervention Team Created

A highly trained and equipped Special Response Team was formed to respond to the most dangerous threats facing our community.  The Team combines special weapons and tactics capabilities with behavioral health and crisis intervention specialists who are highly adept and have a record of successfully resolving the potentially deadliest of situations.

Sheriff Elfo formed the Special Response Team (SRT) to rapidly respond to increasing instances of intense violence.  The Special Response Team regularly responds to instances of armed and barricaded suspects and trains to respond to hostage situations, terrorist threats to our border, refineries and hydro-electric plants.  The Team is also trained in the use of less lethal force options.

As those in mental health crisis generate an increasing number of dangerous circumstances, a Crisis Intervention Team was formed with behavioral specialists trained in strategies to safely resolve these situations.  The Special Response Team and Crisis Intervention Specialists deploy together to ensure all options are available to protect the public.

The Special Response Team and Crisis Intervention Team provide services to all of the small cities in Whatcom County and regularly train and work with the Bellingham Police SWAT team to ensure coordinated efforts when resources are critically needed.

Much of the funding for the Special Response and Crisis Intervention programs followed Sheriff Elfo’s testimony before the United States House of Representative Sub-Committee on Homeland Security in border communities.

Meth Labs Eradicated

In 2003, Whatcom County was plagued with methamphetamine laboratories that presented dangers of fire, explosion, violent crime and endangered children who frequently lived within them.  Sheriff Elfo re-directed the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force and other law enforcement resources to this community problem.  In 2003,  38 meth labs were removed from our community.  In 2004 another 28 meth labs were removed;  13 in 2005;  8 in 2006;  and 1 in 2007.  By 2008, no meth labs were detected in our community.

Sheriff Elfo was appointed by Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna to Chair a Methamphetamine Task Force Committee charged with making legislative recommendations on prevention, enforcement and treatment.  Strategies recommended by the Task Force were enacted into law making it more difficult to produce Meth in Washington communities.

Sheriff Elfo also worked closely with Congressman Rick Larsen on recommendations at the federal level to prevent the availability of precursor chemicals needed to manufacture meth on the international market.

Northwest Regional Drug Task Force Enhanced

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office hosts the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force.  The Task Force is comprised of a number of law enforcement agencies working in partnership to target medium and large sized drug and firearm trafficking organizations, armed drug dealers, criminal gangs and organized crime.

Sheriff Elfo refocused the efforts of the Northwest Regional Drug Task Force from interdicting marijuana at the international border to eradicating meth labs, targeting armed drug dealers and dismantling criminal organizations.

Originally a partnership between the Sheriff’s Office, the Bellingham Police and the Prosecuting Attorney,  in the past few years the Ferndale Police Department, the Washington State Patrol and the Untied States Department of Homeland Security have added resources and personnel to the Task Force enhancing capabilities.

Working cooperatively, the Task Force was instrumental in disrupting an international outlaw motorcycle gang headquartered in Whatcom County and sending its leadership to prison.  The Task Force has also been successful in removing automatic weapons from the hands of drug dealers.

Jail Alternative Programs Expanded

To restore lives and save taxpayer dollars, Sheriff Elfo expanded jail alternative programs including jail work crews, electronic home monitoring and work release. The Jail Work Center houses 148 inmates engaged in work programs that include Work Crews, Work Release and Electronic Home Monitoring.

  • “In Custody Work Crews”  - Offenders perform labor on a variety of projects that include litter control, lawn and yard maintenance at county facilities, planting efforts to enhance salmon habit restoration, building trails and campsites in the National Forest and State Parks and operation of a greenhouse that raises and sells native plants to the State for salmon habitat restoration.  Last year, this work raised nearly $500,000 in revenues that help to off-set incarceration costs.  Crews also perform a variety of functions that include an annual clean up following the Cancer Society Relay for Life in Bellingham, helping build a children’s playground at Million Smiles Park in Lynden and moving the Opportunity Council’s Offices.
  • “Out of Custody Work Crews” - Offenders “day report” to the jail work center and are assigned to help perform maintenance work in the Whatcom County Parks.  This program helps lower incarceration rates and keeps costly jail space available for more serious offenders.

  • “Work Release” - Offenders are housed at the jail work center and are allowed to leave for work or school.  Work release inmates pay the cost of their incarceration on a sliding scale based on a percentage of their earnings.  Inmates attending school pay a flat daily rate.  Offenders assigned to this program are better able to support their families during and after their period of incarceration.

  • “Electronic Home Detention” - Using technology, Electronic Home Detention (EHD) offenders are monitored through technology and GPS systems.  They serve their sentence at home and are only allowed to leave for work, school or treatment.  EHD Offenders pay the costs associated with this program saving taxpayers money.

Volunteers and Reserve Deputies Program Expanded

Whatcom County residents care about their community and there is never a shortage of citizens willing to help.  Sheriff Elfo dramatically increased volunteers resources to enhance the safety of the community.  Last year members of our community donated a total of 9,675 hours to the Sheriffs office valued at $250,441.

Carefully screened and trained volunteers enhance the safety of our community.  Programs include:

  • Reserve Deputies -  Sheriff Elfo increased the number of Reserve Deputy Sheriffs from 3 to 24. Working with Representative Larsen, Whatcom Community College and Bellingham Vocational and Technical College, Sheriff Elfo obtained a grant to train Reserve Deputies for the Sheriff’s Office as well as the city and tribal police departments.  Reserve Deputies accompany Deputies on patrol and reduce the need for Deputies to respond from distant area to provide backup.  Reserve Deputies are also an additional resource for large-scale emergencies.  Last year (2010), Reserve Deputies donated 4,632 hours of service valued at $143,592.

  • Citizens on Patrol -  Sheriff Elfo initiated a Citizens on Patrol (COP) program. Trained volunteers patrol areas vulnerable to crime and report suspicions activity to Deputies and other law enforcement.  COPs volunteers have provided senior citizens and others with talks on reducing vulnerabilities to fraud and abuse.  COPs members are currently a being readied to increase their role in crime prevention education.  Last year, COP members provided 2,305 hours of service valued at $48,830.  In 2010 COP members received an award from the United States Department of Justice for Volunteers in Policing.

  • Interns - Sheriff Elfo works with Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College and other colleges and universities to provide college students with work experience.  Interns provide a variety of support services to the law enforcement and corrections functions of the Sheriff’s Office.

  • Other Volunteers - Aside from the successful programs listed above, volunteer members of the Sheriff’s Office provide a variety of services that range from clerical support to information technology.  Due to reductions in the County’s Information Technology Program, the Sheriff’s Office was unable to improve efforts to disseminate information through its web-site.  Sheriff Elfo received funding from a privately funded foundation and hundreds of volunteer hours to support to electronically disseminate timely information to citizens.  Last year, volunteers  and Interns donated 2,738 hours of service valued at $58,011.

  • Special Expertise and Professional members of the community with specialized professional backgrounds, including engineers and a medical doctor, regularly assist the Sheriff's Office with on-going projects that range from analyzing radio communication systems to providing an on-site physician during incidents with a high potential for injury.  While it is difficult to calculate the precise value of these services, these professionals lend hundreds of hours of service to the Sheriff's Office each year.

  • Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members and Volunteers train residents on emergency preparedness and how to sustain themselves and their neighbors in times of disaster.  The program is run entirely by volunteers.  Many CERT volunteers have completed the training since 2003 and are a resource that can be relied upon in times of emergency.

Whatcom Unified Emergency Management Created

As Director of Emergency Management, Sheriff Elfo worked with the leadership of the small cities and the Bellingham Fire Department to create Whatcom Unified Emergency Management.  This effort ensures that efficiencies are achieved, redundancies eliminated and resources are deployed in a coordinated fashion to where they are most needed.  Just a few years ago, the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County and its smaller cities operated independent emergency management systems.  Through cooperative efforts, Whatcom Unified Emergency Management was established.  All participating jurisdictions maintain necessary local controls, but share personnel, equipment and facilities as well as conduct joint exercises locally and with state and federal partners.  Whatcom Unified Emergency Management is located in the state of the art Olympic Coordination Center.

For more on Whatcom Unified Emergency Management See

Search and Rescue Capabilities Expanded

The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for search and rescue operations county-wide.  While most missions are in our vast wilderness, some involve lost children and vulnerable adults with dementia walking away from assisted living facilities.  Sheriff Elfo has worked with the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Navy and the Air Force Civil Air Patrol to increase the availability of air assets to assist in these time critical missions.  He has also worked with the Alzheimer Society to offer a service to equip patients with tracking devices that allow Deputies to quickly locate them if they become lost.

The Sheriff’s Office coordinates approximately 60 search and rescue missions per year.  The nearly 200 active and trained volunteer members of the Search and Rescue Council conduct most missions.  These volunteers have special expertise in skills such as mountain climbing, high-angle rescue, diving and are able to access wilderness areas with snowmobiles, horseback and hiking.  

To support these efforts, Sheriff Elfo has developed agreements to use the Customs and Border Protection helicopter team and the Civil Air Patrol Team to support ground efforts in locating and rescuing victims in wilderness areas and in the water.

Sheriff Elfo also worked with the Alzheimer Society of Washington to develop Operation Lifesaver to use GPS systems to quickly locate Alzheimer patients who wander from home or assisted living facilities.  The very first time the program was deployed, a lost Alzheimer's patient was located within minutes.  Sheriff Elfo is working with community groups to expand this program to others with developmental disabilities.  For his efforts in this area, Sheriff Elfo was awarded the Ken King Award from the Washington State Alzheimer’s Society.