The deadly shooting Monday night near Hauser Lake was the latest example of increased violent crime in Kootenai County and the shortage of deputies at the sheriff’s office to address it, Sheriff Robert Norris told reporters Wednesday.
Dennis Rogers, 77, was found dead and John S. Hazell Jr., 55, was injured with non-life-threatening injuries, the sheriff’s office said. Adam J. Bennett, a 44-year-old transient, was taken into custody without incident after he allegedly fled the scene but has not been charged in the case.
Lt. Ryan Higgins, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said after Wednesday’s press conference that Rogers and his wife were cleaning up from dinner at their Hauser home when they noticed a fire. Rogers went out to investigate while his wife called 911. Higgins said Rogers was confronted by a person and then shot.
Norris said the couple’s barn was reported on fire shortly after 7:45 p.m. Hauser Lake firefighters and sheriff’s office deputies arrived on scene a few minutes before 8 p.m., and Bennett was detained by deputies at about 8:35 p.m. Higgins said a firearm was found in the vehicle Bennett was discovered in.
Norris said Bennett is considered a person of interest in the fire and the shooting but was booked into the Kootenai County jail for two active warrants and not charges directly related to the incident, according to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office said earlier in the week that additional charges may be filed against Bennett.
Norris said Hazell is a neighbor who came to assist with the fire but did not know that a shooting had occurred. It’s unclear how he was injured.
Meanwhile, Norris said it was very difficult to find sheriff’s office personnel to respond to the crime scene because of the “exhaustive vacancy shortages.” He said three dispatches were sent out Monday night, and two deputies responded to the scene.
He said the 30% vacancy in the jail staff and 30% vacancy in the dispatch center require deputies to fill those positions instead of patrolling the streets.
“I feel like we are on a ship and I’m plugging these holes, but we just keep sinking,” Norris said.
He said there are six patrol deputy vacancies with five deputies in training, 21 jail deputy vacancies and 12 in training, and nine dispatcher vacancies with three in training.
Norris said raising deputies’ salaries will help fill the sheriff’s office vacancies, and that Kootenai County Commissioners need to add more deputy positions to the budget as well. He said some deputies are leaving to higher-paying professions, and applicants say the county’s housing prices are too high.
“We need to improve (salaries) to a point where I can attract talent from other industries that already have housing and live here in Kootenai County to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office,” Norris said.
A detention deputy makes about $43,000 to $58,000 and a lateral patrol deputy makes $53,000 to $73,000, according to jobs listed on Kootenai County’s website. Norris said the salaries and benefits need to be comparable to other area agencies.
Kootenai County Commissioner Bill Brooks said deputies have good benefits but “so-so pay” in the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.
“I would like to see us have attractive pay in the sheriff’s office and the same good benefits,” Brooks said. “I believe that would retain more people and give Bob more tools to work with. He’s a good sheriff. He just needs the tools to work with, and if we don’t do these things, he’s going to fail.”
Norris said growth and crime have caught up to Kootenai County, and they need to be addressed with an adequate salary.
“This isn’t the Sleepy Hollow that it once was, and we are projected to grow significantly in the next several years, and we need a sheriff’s office commensurate with those needs,” he said.
Norris said 165 violent crime events were reported in 2021, compared to 93 in 2017, 105 in 2018, 137 in 2019 and 106 in 2020.
“Psychological” calls are also trending upward, with 105 in 2019, 121 in 2020 and 126 in 2021. There was a low of 57 in 2015 and a high of 144 in 2018 in the last seven years.
Norris said the number of psychological calls should “very easily” pass the 2021 mark this year.
“We have a mental health crisis,” he said. “We have a drug affliction crisis here in Kootenai County.”
SWAT deployments and death investigations have also increased. There were six deployments in 2015, 21 in 2021 and eight so far this year. There were 98 death investigations in 2015, 110 in 2020 and 156 in 2021.
The population of Kootenai County has swelled over the years, rising from 138,494 in the 2010 census to 171,362 in 2020.
Despite call increases in certain areas, arrests in Kootenai County have fluctuated since 2015.
Deputies made 3,179 arrests in 2015, more than in each of the years after that. There were 2,295 arrests in 2021.
Norris said that is not a “healthy statistic” because the county population has increased about 30,000 people from 2015 to this year, so arrests should be going up as well.
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