Snoqualmie Valley: Families worried by sheriff cuts

Five months have passed since the day Mo Burshears’ home was burglarized.

Last week, she looked in her bedside drawer for a prized document to show her son. Unable to locate the decade-old piece of paper, she remembered that the entire contents of the drawer were taken from her home during a robbery last February.

“I can’t ever get that back,” Burshears said.

The robbers kicked in the steel front door and ransacked her home. None of the family’s belongings have been recovered.

Burglaries are nothing new to rural King County homes, but residents are worried that theft in rural areas will increase as a result of the projected cuts to the 2009 King County Budget. Cuts are due to a projected $68 million deficit, according to the King County Web Site. The executive’s final budget will be released to the King County Council in mid-October. Council will approve a finalized version on Nov. 24, and the budget will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

Sheriff Sue Rahr has recommended that building maintenance and administrative costs be reduced. Rahr told the Valley Record that she expects 20 deputies and some administrative services to be cut. Her worst-case scenario is a loss of 75 deputies. If that happens, the county would not have the manpower to investigate property crimes under $10,000.

“That’s what I’m trying to avoid,” Rahr said. “We need to tighten our belts before we go to the last option.”

Burglary aftermath

Following last winter’s burglary, officers cleared the house and tried to prepare Burshears for what she would see before allowing her inside.

“It was in shambles,” she said. “Drawers were open, our stuff was all over the place. Everything was a mess.”

Luckily, her husband, Mark, arrived in town that evening in time to take their sons, Connor and Smiley, out to dinner, while a friend helped Mo piece together the home.

“When I went to bed that night after hours of straightening up, I realized, ‘my comforter is not here,’” Burshears said. “They piled everything in my comforter and hauled it out.”

The Burshears family does not plan to move. The boys love the five-acre parcel. The plot has a fire-pit, and behind the house, the boys like to play with their friends in ‘stick city,’ a densely forested area where fallen branches accumulate, making for a prime boy-hood play-area.

In hindsight, the family wishes they had known how to live ‘smart’ in a rural area. While the Burshears took a bid on an alarm system several years ago, the company seemed disreputable, and they passed on the offer. Since the burglary, the home has been equipped with a Brinks alarm system.

Had they realized that steel doors are easier to break open than many other styles, they would have installed another kind. A solid mahogany door has taken the place of the steel door. Burshears said she learned that solid wood doors are the safest, followed by glass doors because thieves are afraid of cutting themselves on the glass when they break in.

For now, the family will continue to be as proactive as possible by safeguarding their home and actively monitoring local e-mail groups aimed at neighborhood awareness such as the Ames Lake area e-mail group, but they are still concerned about the possible effects of the King Country budget cuts on area patrols and police response times.

The Burshears’ home burglary experience is not unique in their area. Neighbor Perry Cole has been robbed twice — the second job was carried out exactly three months and a week after the first. Many neighbors feel that their homes are targeted for theft due to their remote location, but think that they shouldn’t be subjected to such crimes simply because they live in unincorporated areas of King County.

County officials, however, said the cuts aren’t centered on rural areas.

Director of King County Office Management and Budget Bob Cowan said rural residents have nothing to worry about over the new budget.

“It is important to know that [Rahr] did not recommend any changes or reductions in service or patrol to rural areas of King County,” Cowan said. Rahr made a number of other changes to the budget, he said, reflecting smarter spending on non-safety-related costs such as building maintenance and payroll. She also assessed the patrol fleet and recommended changes to better reflect deputies’ vehicle needs.

Public safety, along with other mandatory county services, will receive smaller reductions than discretionary services.

“Mandatory programs need an 8.65 percent reduction as opposed to the 33 percent reduction to discretionary programs,” Cowan said.

In addition to possible cuts to the criminal justice budget, Public Health and Community and Human Services are being asked to cut 33 percent, according to the county’s Web site.

“Nothing will be set in stone until October,” King County spokeswoman Natasha Jones said. “The fact that public safety is taking a bigger cut than other programs is not true. There’s a lot of moving parts and we want to make sure citizens understand the reasons behind the process.”

King County is not the only county experiencing budget cuts, said Jones.

“All of the counties in the state are facing deficits because of the downturn in the economy,” she said.

Aside from cutting services, the King County Web site says the executive office is working with the prosecutor, sheriff and presiding judges to streamline communication and find efficiencies.

Major Jerrell Wills, local precinct commander for the Sheriff’s Office, said response time in northeast King County is between 12 and 14 minutes for priority calls.

“We’re already kind of limited in what we do” in crime investigations and othe responses, Wills said.

Kathy and Rowland Brasch refuse to be sitting ducks in the King County budget crunch. Instead, the couple have created their own local crime prevention and response network so that their community is able to support itself in a time of crisis — even if the proposed budget cuts reduce police presence in their community.

Rowland Brasch started the SnoValley Crime Watch Yahoo group in November 2007 to share information about safety offerings and criminal happenings. By creating an open line of communication among neighbors in the rural, unicorporated area of King Country between Duvall and Carnation, Brasch hopes to raise awareness of the comings and goings around town in an effort to reduce crime.

The network group has now expanded to include natural disaster awareness, so neighbors can share tips on how to prepare for trouble, and can offer assistance to neighbors who’ve been affected by weather, flooding or fire.

It came in handy during the wind storm, said Kathy Brasch, president of the Carnation/Duvall Citizen Corps. She encourages community involvement as a way to decrease crime.

“Get to know your community,” she said. The Citizen Corps, a nation-wide component of Freedom Corps, was created after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 to make communities safer and better prepared to respond to any emergency situtation.

The Corps also offers Citizen Emergency Response Training (CERT) twice each year for a cost of $35. The next training session is Wednesday, Sept. 24 in Duvall.

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