Serious crimes, overdoses up in Washington County
There was an uptick in crime and overdoses over the past few years, according to data released last week by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Bill Hutton said serious crimes — homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson — totaled 722 in 2014, up from 705 last year.
Other crimes — including simple assault, forgery, vandalism, sex offenses and narcotics — accounted for 2,946 cases this year, up from 2,749 last year, according to the data.
“We’ve had a significant increase over the years with our narcotics cases,” Hutton said, adding that 2012 saw nine overdose deaths related to heroin or opioids. The number jumped to 16 a year later and 14 in the first six months of 2014.
“So it’s rising in an alarming rate,” he said.
Those cases are handled through collaborative efforts of the sheriff’s office, Washington County Attorney’s Office and several other agencies.
The county recently assigned a sheriff’s deputy to the Drug Enforcement Administration Tactical Diversion Squad to tackle the growing problem of pharmaceutical addiction and abuse.
Hutton presented the new data as part of the annual budget review process at an Aug. 19 Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting. The $29.3 million budget includes a request for a full-time deputy sergeant to handle security policies at all county facilities and ensure that protocols are in place to respond to safety concerns.
County Administrator Molly O’Rourke said the county operates out of 20 locations and the position will enhance security at those satellite offices in addition to the government center.
Other key budget adjustments proposed include about $24,000 to replace old and unreliable dive equipment, which is often sought by neighboring counties.
The sheriff’s office is also proposing to add a half-time public safety system manager to deal with record management, especially the rising number of gun permit applications.
Hutton said in addition to new permits, the county must manage rechecks and renewals every five years, so it’s a constant process.
“That number just rolls over and becomes more significant,” he said.
The Washington County Board reviewed the budget as part of the annual process that involves each department and its requests for additional funds or adjustments. No official vote was taken.
The county is proposing a 3.5 percent property tax levy increase in 2015. A preliminary levy will be set in September. From there the county can only lower the levy, not increase it, when setting the final number at the truth-in-taxation hearing in December.