Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict held a frank discussion with members of the Clallam County Democratic Party on issues from mental illness to drugs to the Border Patrol on May 11 in Sequim.
Benedict, who ran unopposed for a second term as sheriff last November, questioned the need for such a high Border Patrol presence when, as far as he knows, they made fewer than 20 arrests last year.
While it is important to have security at the border and patrols to intercept drug smuggling, he thinks the Coast Guard is equipped to handle the latter, he said.
Benedict said sometimes if one of his deputies needs backup, a Border Patrol agent will assist.
Benedict said other than that the Border Patrol agents don’t have much to do. He has sent letters to Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., asking them about the increase in Border Patrol presence over the past several years, he said.
“I was told from the feds basically that I didn’t have the full picture and not to worry about it,” he said.
An audience member asked Benedict how the jail tries to help people with drug addictions.
Benedict said his deputies are trained to respond to the report of a crime, determine what happened and who did it.
“Deputies are not substance abuse counselors,” he said.
Mental illness often is the biggest factor in a person’s substance abuse and to treat that the jail has a contract with Peninsula Mental Health to provide free mental health treatment to jail inmates. Sometimes inmates also are transported to Western State Hospital for assessment or treatment.
But mental illness remains a huge problem for jail staff and the public.
“It is cheaper and safer for you to take mentally ill people with a drug problem and put them in jail at $73 a day than put them in a bed at Western State for $700 a day when they don’t want to be there,” he said.
Often when they are released they stop taking their medications and start self-medicating with street drugs, he said.
“You have the right in this country to be as crazy as you want to be,” he said.
Unfortunately that means his jail staff sometimes are faced with combative mentally unstable and drug-addicted inmates.
Benedict said the biggest problem drug in Clallam County is alcohol. Second to that is the abuse of prescription drugs, he said.
“Prescription drug abuse is killing more people than car accidents,” he said, recalling a 13-year-old Port Angeles girl who abused a narcotic painkiller, Methadone, and died of an overdose at a campground last summer.
“It’s not like they’re (prescription drugs) being smuggled in from another country,” he said.
Young people abusing prescription drugs normally get them from the medicine cabinets of their parents, grandparents and neighbors, he said.
“My approach is, let’s have serious discussions about why people want to go that way.” Benedict said. “Why do kids want to abuse prescription drugs and get high? Demand drives supply.”
Benedict said the drug take-back efforts of local law enforcement have helped but there needs to be an easier way to dispose of the medication safely.
Washington state Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, proposed a bill earlier this year that would form an umbrella group and require drug companies to provide their own take-back program for the drugs they make. The bill was voted down.
“I can’t believe it didn’t get through,” Benedict said of the bill.
As for the new medical marijuana legislation, Benedict called it “murky” and said it is an enforcement nightmare.
“We want a bright line,” he said. “Someone needs to tell us what to do.”
So far his department has taken a largely hands-off approach to the issue, he said.