Sheriff plans meetings next week to promote Sept. 14 levy

LONG BEACH, Wash. - Peninsula voters are being asked to support a tax levy to beef up the war on drugs.

The measure will be on the Sept. 14 primary ballot. The Criminal Justice Levy would allow Pacific County Sheriff John Didion's office to designate two detectives countywide to concentrate strictly on narcotics.

The levy would cost residents 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The owner of a home valued at $100,000 would be assesed $50 a year. By state law, all funds must be used for criminal justice purposes.

"As Pacific County sheriff, my responsibility is to let the citizens know about our resources and strategies and to work with citizens to provide the best possible service," Didion said. "For the past couple of years, the peninsula has seen an escalation in crimes that have more often been committed in metropolitan areas, especially involving the drug world."

He said nationally 70 to 80 percent of crime is drug-related. "Locally, we're seeing that also, to the point that, with our staffing level, we're overwhelmed with the sheer volume of burglaries, vehicle prowls and thefts, criminal activity generated by drug addiction. The stolen property is sold to pay for drugs."

For a four-month period in 2001, Pacific County commissioners and the city of Long Beach provided money to free a deputy to work strictly on narcotics and in that time there were 57 chargeable felonies. Didion recalls the effort "basically shut down major drug trade with a corresponding lowering of the crime rate in Long Beach and Ilwaco."

The board of a proposed Pacific County Narcotics Enforcement Team would include representatives from all agencies bringing intelligence gathered by each agency and information from citizens, to be shared across jurisdictional lines. Agencies involved, besides the sheriff's office, are Long Beach, South Bend and Raymond police departments; Washington State Patrol; Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; U.S. Coast Guard and the county prosecutor's office.

Efforts will be made to press serious charges drawing prison time, in part to avoid high costs at the county jail.

"The jail isn't equipped to care for drug users' and dealers' medical and withdrawal problems, which is a huge expense to taxpayers."

Burglary, vehicle prowl and narcotics complaint calls in the county continue to rise. In 2000, officers responded to 279 burglary calls. That amount nearly doubled in 2003, to 468. Narcotics complaints rose from 73 in 2000 to 140 last year. There were 98 calls for vehicle prowls in 2000, 133 in 2003.

And, sheriff's deputies are being confronted with more and more violent crime, Didion said, and include threats against the deputies.

"Almost every instance is in connection with some kind of drug," he said. Property crimes especially, such as theft and burglary, are consistent with drug use.

"By focusing on meth labs and drug trafficking, we will definitely lower the overall crime rate," he said. "Drugs cause individuals to lose control of their behavior, but meth and stimulant drugs have psychological side effects that lead to more violent behavior. People who use these drugs are 'up' for long periods of time. The longer they use them, the less rational they become."

For details about the levy, call (360) 642-9405.

More information:Public meetings are planned to explain the levy. They are 6 p.m. Monday at the Super 8 Motel in Long Beach, Wash.; 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Ocean Park Fire Hall; 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Naselle High School Commons; 6:30 p.m. Sept. 2 at Valley High School in Menlo; and 6 p.m. Sept. 3 at the Chinook Fire Hall.

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