When Richard Lathim thinks about his 28-year tenure as sheriff of Franklin County, one word keeps coming to his mind — stability.
It’s what the veteran officer has tried to instill in his department during a remarkable run as the longest-serving law enforcement administrator in Benton and Franklin counties.
Stability was one of the glaring weaknesses he saw in the sheriff’s office when he was first elected in 1986. Deputies routinely left for higher-wage jobs and managers rarely reached the 20-year milestone.
Sitting in his office at the newly remodeled sheriff’s department, Lathim reflected recently on his time as sheriff and how the office has grown into a state accredited organization.
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Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond takes over as sheriff in January after defeating Lathim in November.
Leaving with Lathim will be longtime Undersheriff Kevin Carle and Capt. Rick Long, who runs the Franklin County jail. Carle has been with the department more than three decades and Long for more than 20 years.
“There’s been a lot of stability here,” said Lathim, 59. “I think that’s why we have been so successful is that stability.”
Lathim started with the office in 1978 as a patrol deputy and ran for sheriff when he was 30 in 1986.
He wanted to reduce one of the state’s highest crime rates. The drug trade had created problems for law enforcement and given Pasco and Franklin County a negative reputation.
The sheriff said he helped form the Tri-City Metro Drug Task Force. The office also focused on preventing burglaries and property crimes.
The total crime rate in Franklin County has since dropped by more than 60 percent, he said.
“A big focus was dropping the crime rate of burglaries,” said Carle, 55, who has been undersheriff for all of Lathim’s tenure. “That was a big deal to us. People’s homes were being broken into. They had been invaded and their property taken.”
Through the years, Lathim and Carle have worked together to grow the sheriff’s office and raise the level of professionalism within the department.
Patrol cars have been equipped with computers, deputies started patrolling the Tri-Cities Airport and Juniper Dunes, a safe boating program was created and illegal marijuana worth millions of dollars was taken off the street through annual air patrols, officials said.
Lathim and Carle also got the department accredited with the state in 2008 and again in 2012. Both played a part recently in getting taxpayer support for a more than $19 million jail expansion and remodel of the sheriff’s office.
“It was an absolute necessity to get the jail built. We made the message clear to voters. That has set the county and all of law enforcement good for the next 25 years,” Lathim said.
He was disappointed with the results of the Nov. 4 election and the poor voter turnout, though he said he knows holding an elected office comes with the possibility of being replaced.
He told the Herald the transition to civilian life will be bittersweet, but he is confident he has left the office in a better place.
During Lathim’s recent campaign, his office fought off allegations that the jail mistreated inmates and that the staff wasn’t properly trained. An ongoing lawsuit filed by a legal aid organization in Seattle accuses sheriff’s employees of using barbaric practices.
Lathim and Long both dismissed the allegations, calling them unfounded lies. Lathim hopes Raymond will continue to pursue getting the jail accredited, something Lathim said he planned to make a priority if reelected.
Lathim, Carle and Long had the option to stay at the sheriff’s office and return to their previous rank but decided to leave.
Raymond said he will hire a person outside of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to run the jail and has named Detective Sgt. Dan McCary from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office as his new undersheriff when he takes over in January.
Long and Carle plan to take the next few months to relax and think about what they will do next.
Both praised Lathim, saying the sheriff was a strong leader who had an open-door policy and cared for everyone who worked under him. “You couldn’t have asked for a better person to work for,” said Long, 67.
As for Lathim, the career law enforcement officer has no immediate plans and wants to enjoy time with his family. He doesn’t rule out the possibility of one day putting a badge back on.
“I’ve worn a badge and carried a gun since I was 21 years old,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet if I’m not willing to do that anymore.”