Some Spokane County deputies who wanted to go help hurricane victims have been told that funds are unavailable to cover the costs.
Sheriff Mark Sterk said Friday that it is his understanding that the federal government is unwilling to reimburse the cost of overtime pay to cover the shifts for the deputies headed south.
“Quite frankly for us to send deputies down there, we are too far away,” Sterk said. “I think other agencies are doing it, but it would be a struggle for us up here because we are struggling to get staffing on the street as it is.”
Other departments across the Inland Northwest, however, have teams already en route.
Earlier this week, Bonner County Sheriff Elaine Savage and Capt. Jim Drake left with two U-Haul rental trucks, three deputies and two patrol cars. They met deputies and another truck from Shoshone County in Coeur d’Alene and had calls from other departments that may also send more deputies and supplies to help flooded-out families of law enforcement officers in Mississippi and Louisiana.
And in Spokane, Fire Chief Bobby Williams said this week that his department sent three, two-person teams to the Gulf region and expects to send two more. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the city for the regular salary cost of their replacements. The firefighters union also reached an agreement with the city that the replacement workers would fill in at straight time rather than overtime.
The Spokane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association is sending a $2,000 donation to assist New Orleans police officers, but the 10 to 12 local deputies who have expressed interest in traveling south have encountered several obstacles from serving there as law enforcement officers.
All requests by law enforcement agencies to provide help are being coordinated by the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), Sterk said. Otherwise, they would have to use their own vacation and serve as civilian volunteers.
Currently, the relief effort has enough uniformed officers to handle the job.
“You have to be requested to go. If you show up down there, you will probably be sent home,” Sterk said. “But they will need people in the following weeks because people get tired and they rotate home.”
If local deputies eventually work out the details with the NSA, they must provide their own guns and patrol vehicles. They would also need to take enough food and have lodging for four days, Sterk said.
“If they are going down as private citizens, they are contacting FEMA and asking if they just need general volunteers for the rescue,” Sterk said.
Ozzie Knezovich, president of the local deputy sheriff’s association, said his union is willing to send deputies on their own vacation time. But Sterk said the volunteers would have to coordinate with managers to make sure that vacation time doesn’t conflict with other scheduled time off to ensure the county has enough coverage.
“How many can we afford to let go at one time? It all depends on what the schedule looks like,” he said.
In addition to the deputies, Sterk said he, Undersheriff Dave Wiyrick and Capt. Dick Collins have offered their services to help coordinate the ongoing relief effort. “But that would be coordinated through the NSA and only if they needed us and they made a request,” he said.
Sterk’s not concerned about any perception that he is not willing to help.
“Nobody is saying we wouldn’t or couldn’t, but we just need to follow the protocol to make sure the county is reimbursed for those expenses,” he said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.