Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher will ask county commissioners Tuesday to pay for detectives to hunt down online predators, combat gangs and crack data crimes.
The sheriff wants to use unspent 2014 Public Safety Sales Tax money to add three detectives.
The $600,000 is already sitting, unspent in his jail budget but the commissioners must agree that he can transfer it to his patrol budget.
If approved, the sheriff’s office will contribute a second detective to the Richland-led Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, add a detective to the countywide gang team and create a new swing shift detective to more immediately analyze electronic data.
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The money comes from a three-tenths of a percent sales tax that voters approved in 2014.
It was originally allocated to the 740-bed jail in anticipation that putting more officers on the streets would put more inmates in the jail.
The jail population didn’t grow, however, because Benton County stopped jailing people who couldn’t pay court fines after it settled a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Also, the county commission decided to cap the number of inmates allowed in the jail at 550 by reducing the number of prisoners it houses under contracts with other outside agencies.
The commission is expected to consider the sheriff’s request when it meets at 9 a.m. at the county courthouse, 620 Market St. in Prosser. The meetings are also telecast at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick.
The commissioners faced criticism recently for having $15.6 million in its reserve fund from public safety sales taxes.
Commission Chairman Jerome Delvin, a former Richland police officer, said they are considering offering one-time grants to combat gang activity and are looking at other ways to spend the extra money in line with the ballot measure, including establishing a court for cases involving military veterans.
The county receives 60 percent of the sales tax proceeds and Kennewick, Richland, West Richland and Prosser split the remaining 40 percent based on their population.
Together, the agencies have added 35 law enforcement officers and spent money on crime fighting — including adding prosecutors, defense attorneys and support staff.
Here’s a look at what Benton County’s new detectives would work on.
The Southeast Washington Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) includes detectives from Richland, Kennewick, Benton County and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
Detectives pose online as minors selling sex. The officers also investigate child pornography.
The task force has netted dozens of arrests.
The Benton County gang team originally formed in 2011. The added detective would help with the increasing number of cases, as well as the increasing sophistication and the need for experts to analyze electronic data.
The gang team works closely with the Kennewick-led Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force.
Also, Hatcher said a new swing-shift detective would be available to support deputies investigating complicated crime scenes, including capturing surveillance data and analyzing electronic devices.
The detective also would serve as a community liaison officer.