PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, who opposed firearms Initiative 1639, is fulfilling the new law’s provisions, most of which went into effect July 1, but remains unconvinced of its effectiveness.
He told Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles luncheon participants Thursday that he’s spending an amount equal to about 0.5 full-time equivalents (FTE) to conduct annual background checks for owners of firearms, required as part of the law approved by more than 60 percent of voters last November.
Benedict’s wide-ranging 50-minute presentation included a review of recently released 2018 crime statistics for Washington state.
They are contained in the 2018 Crime in Washington Annual Report, a 594-page review compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
The review includes detailed crime numbers for Clallam and Jefferson counties and Port Angeles, Sequim, Forks and Port Townsend, as well as for Grays Harbor County, similar in size to Clallam, and Aberdeen in Grays Harbor, similar to Port Angeles.
Benedict said checks of new firearms owners had been performed by the FBI and submitted by gun dealers before the law went into effect.
Because of I-1639’s new gun regulations, those background checks and the additional checks are being done by local jurisdictions.
“We’re on pace to be doing 12,000 to 15,000 a year,” Benedict said.
That compares to 3,000 to 4,000 previously, he said.
“It’s an administrative burden, and continues to be an administrative burden, but that’s the law, so we’re doing it,” Benedict said.
“Looking at crime statistics and looking at the likely outcome of the enhanced background checks, I don’t see that it will significantly reduce gun violence,” he told the group.
The background check, being performed by a deputy on temporary desk duty because of injury, requires a response from state mental health officials that the gun owner is eligible to possess or continue to posses a firearm or is eligible to be issued a concealed pistol permit.
“The bottom line is that when the deputy goes back to full duty, we’ll probably have to do an internal reorganization or hire a one-half-time FTE,” Benedict said.
“I did oppose the initiative. We opposed it on the grounds that it’s a lot of extra work for not much benefit.”
The law also requires safe storage of a firearm in a home, making a homeowner liable if his or her firearm is used in an unauthorized manner, and raises the minimum age to own a gun from 18 to 21 aspects of I-1639 he did not touch on Thursday.
Benedict said Friday that gun dealers enforce the age restriction.
He was against lowering the age limit and opposed the safe-storage provision.
Benedict compared the storage clause to making it a crime for someone to leave their car keys in the ignition and someone stealing the vehicle and said he did not see how increasing the gun ownership age to 21 would cut down on firearm violence.
Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole said in February that he would enforce the law.
While Clallam County and Port Angeles have seen, statistically, “a cluster” of eight homicides in two multiple-homicides since Christmas, Benedict noted an increase in reported burglaries in the unincorporated county in 2018 from 177 in 2018 to 194 in 2018, a 9.6 percent increase, he told the Kiwanis Club members.
The alleged quadruple homicide July 6 in West Port Angeles was the first quadruple-killing in recorded county history, Benedict said.
“It may have occurred, but nobody can recall in the history of Clallam County, recorded history, whether there’s been a quadruple homicide.
“It may have occurred, but it was probably before, certainly it was before 1920, when records were kept.”
Reported simple assault also increased in Clallam County in 2018 compared to 2017, from 201 to 251, a 25 percent hike.
Unlike Clallam, Jefferson County saw a 61 percent increase in reported burglaries, from 62 in 2017 to 100 in 2018.
Reported simple assaults went down, from 73 in 2017 to 64 in 2018.
Nole could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
Burglaries were down by 38 percent in Grays Harbor County, which has a population similar to Clallam’s.
They plummeted from 222 to 138, as did simple assaults, 175 to 156, an 11 percent decrease.
Benedict said most burglaries are committed in daylight hours.
“Ninety-five percent of those doing it are on drugs or using drugs,” he said.
The crime is commonly committed by people selling easily targeted items such as computers for pennies on the dollar, and they are not dumping them at pawn shops.
Pawn shops have safeguards against accepting identifiable stolen goods and against accepting goods from people convicted of theft and burglary, Benedict said.
Stolen goods more often end up on eBay or at swap meets outside Clallam County, he said.
Benedict suggested that property owners take photos of their most valuable items and record serial numbers, or if possible, numbers that they etch on their valuable items, using, he suggested, a drivers license number.
Reported burglaries in Port Angeles increased by 31 percent, to 164 in 2018, and remained unchanged at 36 in Port Townsend in 2017 and 2018.
They decreased in Forks by 32 percent, to 56, and in Sequim by 19 percent, to 29.
In Aberdeen, where the population is similar to Port Angeles’, burglaries increased by 19 percent, to 166.
Benedict told Kiwanis Club members that Washington state has the lowest number of officers per 1,000 population in the U.S. but also one of the lowest crime rates.
The unincorporated county has .81 officers per 1,000 population, “well below the average for mid-size counties” and lower than the 2.6-per-1,000 population national average.
Port Angeles two officers per 1,000, and Sequim four officers per 1,000, Benedict said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].