Ketchum Councilwomen Courtney Hamilton and Amanda Breen met with the Blaine County sheriff and his chief deputy several weeks ago to discuss the department’s policing tactics—something Breen brought up following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer.
According to Hamilton and Breen, the meeting was informative—and Breen is still working on getting the sheriff to come to a public meeting to present to the community.
During a City Council meeting on Aug. 3, Hamilton shared statistics provided by Sheriff Steve Harkins and Chief Deputy Will Fruehling. According to that data, sheriff’s deputies made 1,213 arrests between the time Harkins took office in January 2017 and the end of 2019. Of those, 31 required the use of force—described as any “extra effort required” to take someone under arrest. Hamilton said most of those uses of force were for DUIs in which the driver refused to get out of the vehicle and a deputy had to grab the person’s arm.
There were four instances in which a deputy used a Taser due to a perceived threat. The last deadly force incident in Blaine County occurred in 2004, according to Harkins.
Hamilton said the department has a “very clear chain” of necessary escalation, and Harkins has increased the time that deputies spend training in an effort to keep deputies prepared and to continue mitigating risk to the community and its law enforcement.
In an email to the Mountain Express, Harkins said the Sheriff’s Office completed 1,682 hours of training in 2017, 2,356 hours in 2018 and 2,731 hours in 2019.
“Providing basic and advanced training to our deputies is a priority, which is clearly indicated in a 62 percent increase of training hours since I became Blaine County sheriff,” Harkins said in the email.
In addition, a new virtual training simulator was brought into the department in 2018 to give realistic training opportunities to deputies on “how to react and use de-escalation techniques to peacefully resolve a situation, when that option is available to them,” Harkins said.
“Compassion, good judgement and use of de-escalation techniques by our deputies has been a commitment within our team long before the recent national events,” he said.
While maintaining that there is no racial bias within the department, Harkins said it is establishing a Hispanic deputy to become a liaison for the Sheriff’s Office and the Hispanic community.
“We began exploring this need long before the recent national events and believe this will help us build the gap and create positive relationships,” he said.
The department’s deputies do not enforce immigration laws, and Harkins told the Express that they are not concerned with someone’s immigration status when conducting an investigation or arrest. The Sheriff’s Office does, however, cooperate with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, which oversees deportations for residents who are in the U.S. illegally.
Harkins said deputies contact ICE about a suspect's immigration status, but the process typically begins when a person admits they are not a U.S. citizen, gives false information about their true identity or does not have a Social Security number.
According to ICE, it requests that law enforcement agencies notify it as early as practical—ideally at least 48 hours—before a suspected undocumented person is released from criminal custody and then maintain custody of that person for up to 48 hours to allow the Department of Homeland Security to assume custody.
Based on information provided by the Sheriff’s Office via a records request, it released 57 jail inmates to ICE between 2017 and 2019.