San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs said he was not surprised to find that 59 percent of 240 participants in a recent poll said drug activity was their main worry when it comes to crime in island communities.
“I knew that was a primary concern,” said Krebs.
He already has some plans in place to address these issues, but cannot share specific tactics with the public at this time.
“We are going to be paying more attention to places where there are known drug hangouts in Friday Harbor and other places where there are concentrated areas of activity,” said Krebs. “We will also focus on the way drugs are getting on the island.”
Drugs was one of several topics in the poll, which was created by the Islands’ Weekly in January. A total of 268 islanders responded to the poll – 33 answers were skipped. See the results of the survey on page 7.
What Krebs found most startling about the poll was that only 16 percent of survey responders checked excellent in response to deputies’ professionalism in their interactions with the community.
“My goal is to change that quickly,” said Krebs. “There is absolutely no reason that our deputies should not be professional and friendly in our community.”
Krebs said the perception of unprofessional deputies may be because the memory of the Christmas Eve incident in Friday Harbor. The incident involved Deputy Felix Menjivar pulling over a San Juan Island man driving a trailer, which carried more than a dozen holiday carolers, including several children. The ensuing verbal exchange between the driver and Menjivar became heated and, according to several witnesses, that dispute nearly escalated into an altercation.
Witnesses say that at one point the deputy lunged at the driver, but was restrained by a second officer who arrived at the scene. Krebs said he would not be surprised if this image of the deputy was still fresh in the community’s memory.
“They should remember,” said Krebs. “It was fairly recent and a big incident in our town.”
Krebs, who was sworn in as sheriff in January, has several goals to improve the sheriff’s department. His three-month plan includes getting his deputies “back on track.”
The new sheriff said the recent sheriff election in November and a lack of morale in the department has been a problem. Now that the elections are over, Krebs said, “We can focus on keeping the community safe, which is our job.”
His other goal is to increase training on dispatch due to complaints about a lack of unprofessionalism.
“We are building a strong foundation and building on that,” Krebs said.
Other plans in the works are to hold town hall meetings so he can stay informed about the issues affecting each island.
“Without knowing people’s concerns, it’s really a guessing issue,” said Krebs. “I know there are big issues out there and I want to focus on those concerns and make people feel safe.”
Results of survey
• As to what crimes cause the most significant problems in our community, 59 percent of 240 responders selected drugs, 15 percent selected burglary, 14 – drunk driving, 5 – traffic, 5 – sexual assault and 2 – robbery.
• When asked how well the sheriff’s department is enforcing laws, 41 percent out of 243 rated the department as average, 25 – poor, 12 – well, 11 – very poor, 8 – very well and 3 – excellent.
• When it comes to safety in our community, 90 people responded with safe, 67 felt very safe, 53 – average, 16 safe and 14 very unsafe.
• When asked if people feel like the sheriff and deputies are keeping you safe, 134 people of 217 responders said yes and 83 said no.
• Thirty-five percent of 238 people related that the sheriff’s department is average when dealing with suspected drug activity. Thirty percent said poor, 23 – very poor, 7 – well, 3 – very well and 2 – excellent.
• When questioned if people feel that the sheriff and/or deputies discriminate based on a person’s ethnicity, 94 people said untrue, 87 – very untrue, 32 – true and 15 – very true.
• When it comes to the sheriff’s department role in providing information to the public, answering questions or fulfilling requests, 37 percent of 238 people said average, 23 – poor, 17 – good, 11 – failure and 11 – excellent.
• How would you rate deputies’ professionalism in their interactions with the community was answered with the following: 33 percent – good, 31 – average, 16 – poor, 16 – excellent, 6 – failure.