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Criminal justice system must move out of crisis mode

Editor,

A recent editorial provided by Sheriff Bell is inaccurate in two critical areas and illustrates how the lack of leadership, community involvement and planning are contributing to the “crisis” in Lake County’s criminal justice system. While Sheriff Bell is not solely responsible for this crisis, he is contributing to the problem by restating what is already known about the jail and failing to provide the Commissioners with options to build a new facility. These options should include construction with or without participation in Public Law 280 and funding options with input from the public, the community and business leaders.

Each month without an existing plan for implementation, adds more time to the years needed to complete the construction of a new jail. The consequence of waiting to develop actionable plans compound existing problems by creating an atmosphere where the “new normal” in violent behavior is redefined by criminals and not the rule of law. As a community, the criminal behavior that we intentionally or unintentionally allow, only invites more of the same.

Sheriff Bell is incorrect and this affects his ability to publicly advocate for any future funding of the new jail. According to Lake County Finance & Accounting, the sheriff’s office has not experienced budget cuts. Budget expenditures for 2015/2016 were $2.7 million, the following year these expenditures grew to $3.3 million and currently the amount is $3.4 million. While these amounts may be less than requested, they clearly are not budget cuts.

The second inaccurate claim is, “…the citizens of Lake County did not experience a lesser-degree of service from the Sheriff’s Office.” This statement is insulting to those voters who approved the 2008 county ballot to increase funding for public safety services. The voter approved services cut by Sheriff Bell include: dive rescue, special response team (SRT), boat patrol, reserve deputies and the chaplaincy. This “bait and switch” misrepresentation and use of property taxes is a violation of the taxpayers’ trust.

A second term for Sheriff Bell will result in more delays, temporary fixes and a failure to provide the necessary leadership and trust vital to reverse 20 years of crisis in our criminal justice system.

David Coffman
Polson 

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