Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders committed to allowing more vehicle pursuits, relaxing booking restrictions at the county jail, and more in a public video address he posted Monday on Facebook.
In the post, Sanders promised to share "State of the Sheriff's Office" videos on a quarterly basis as well as provide more frequent social media updates.
"Moving forward, Thurston County Sheriff's Office will be disclosing details on internal topics not historically released for one simple purpose: the public ought to know what is happening within their local Sheriff's Office, both good and bad, both mundane and exciting," Sanders said in the post.
The announcement came a week after Sanders took office and several days after he took part in a pursuit himself, a decision he defended in a separate video released on Saturday. Sanders, a former deputy, won his role after defeating long-time incumbent John Snaza in the November election.
In the video, Sanders spoke on a wide range of changes and challenges affecting the Sheriff's Office.
To start, he said he has authorized deputies to pursue drivers they suspect may be intoxicated, just as he recently did.
"I just don't know how else to make it clear that if you drive intoxicated in Thurston County, our deputies will pursue you when necessary and reasonable," Sanders said.
Next, Sanders said his deputies also are allowed to pursue motorcyclists who are suspected of committing violent felonies and sex offenses.
He called the previous policy, which prohibited any such pursuit, "problematic." However, he added some pursuits would still be limited.
"We are not going to pursue for DUI on motorcycles," Sanders said. "That doesn't make much sense to me. But we are going to ensure that criminals who commit serious felony crimes do not have a safe haven in this county."
On the topic of the county jail, Sanders said he aims to start relaxing booking restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic to limit the jail population.
On his first day, Sanders said he moved to allow city police to book people suspected of burglary into the county jail. He said this would benefit public safety, as others in the community have.
"We have to make sure that people that were committing felony burglary crimes are held accountable, at least on our end," Sanders said.
He said he would work with the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, judges and the Public Health and Social Services Department to loosen restrictions further.
Thurston County's COVID-19 Community Level, a measure of transmission risk determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, remained "low" as of last week, according to data collected between Dec. 28 and Jan. 5.
However, PHSS continues to report outbreaks in congregate care settings, such as assisted living facilities and the county jail. As of Jan. 1, there were 30 ongoing outbreaks in the county in a variety of locations, including one at a correctional facility with 19 cases, according to a weekly report.
Changes on patrol
Looking ahead, Sanders said he intends to select two deputies from the patrol division to serve as dedicated domestic violence specialists.
He previously told The Olympian these deputies would be trained with grant funding to respond to domestic violence calls and follow-up with alleged victims.
Additionally, he said his office intends to make use of recently acquired body and dash cameras for deputies. Sanders said deputies are "excited" to use them and he plans to wear a body camera himself.
"We're still working through the kinks," Sanders said. "It's a new thing for us. It's a huge operation, but that's all looking very promising."
Efforts to secure these cameras started under the previous administration, Snaza said during his re-election campaign.
Another priority for Sanders will be to add two drug-sniffing dogs to the county jail. He said this should provide another career path for correctional deputies as well as help prevent overdose deaths in the jail.
Sanders also spoke about the staffing challenges the Sheriff's Office has been facing, some of which he intends to bring up with the Board of County Commissioners.
The Sheriff's Office is funded for 91 corrections deputies, yet they only have 78 currently working, Sanders said.
"That's huge, especially if we want to start looking at reopening the jail, for booking restrictions, we need to get that staffing up," Sanders said.
On the operations side, he said the office is funded for 56 patrol deputies but only 34 are actively working. Many of the 22 inactive positions are technically filled, but the people filling them are on leave for a variety of reasons.
Sanders said six incoming deputies are expected to graduate from academy training between May and August and four additional deputies are expected to start in February.
Lastly, he said he hopes to hire an additional systems administrator to manage the office's technology and add staffing to the finance department. Both are areas that are in urgent need of additional support, he said.
"I know that it is not the coolest thing in the word to ask for more support staff," Sanders said. "Everyone wants more deputies, because that's easy to see how that impacts public safety, but I can tell you that after sitting down and listening to my employees, these are going to be two positions that we focus on immediately."
Aside from those topics, Sanders encouraged the public to engage on proposed state legislation that could affect law enforcement.
He listed four areas of concern, including laws regulating vehicle pursuits, law enforcement interactions with juveniles, the decriminalization of drug possession, and funding for law enforcement recruiting and retention.
"It's not about Sheriff Sanders coming in and telling you guys how to vote or what you want to support..." Sanders said. "I just ask that you get involved."