Guest Commentaries

Top Democrats: Tanksley is key to successful jail plan

Sheriff candidate can bring people together around jail — and treatment
October 12, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Some of Whatcom County's top Democrats support Blaine Police Chief Donnell "Tank" Tanksley in the upcoming sheriff's election because they believe his trustworthiness is needed when making decisions about the proposed new jail.
Some of Whatcom County's top Democrats support Blaine Police Chief Donnell "Tank" Tanksley in the upcoming sheriff's election because they believe his trustworthiness is needed when making decisions about the proposed new jail. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

By Sen. Sharon Shewmake, et al.

Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community. Behavioral health, and drug and alcohol treatment, rehabilitation and prevention are prudent investments that make us safer by preventing criminality before it starts. 

Unfortunately, crime is a reality in Whatcom County, and releasing people who have committed crimes back into the community before they have been stabilized puts the public at risk. Safe communities need a safe jail and well-funded services that reduce the need for incarceration. How these projects are managed is important: We need a sheriff who will work with our county council and executive to keep costs down while remaining focused on safety. 

That’s why we are such strong supporters of Donnell Tanksley for sheriff: He is the key to making the new jail proposal work. Tanksley’s leadership can bring people together around a proposal for jail — and treatment — that we believe most of our community will support.

Tanksley has the character, background and the resume to do this job well. He’s a military veteran, former assistant chief of police at Western Washington University, and today is the chief of police in Blaine. He worked his way up the ranks of the police department in St. Louis, Missouri, earning a master’s degree in management along the way. He has extensive on-the-ground experience leading and training law enforcement agencies. 

Tanksley is an experienced instructor of “Fair and Impartial Policing” and trains others in best practices. As our next sheriff, Tanksley will bring a community-focused approach to policing and will improve lives by breaking the cycle of incarceration. 

Whatcom County residents deserve a public safety plan that is transparent, thoughtful, evidence-based and fiscally responsible. People want dangerous drugs off the street, accessible treatment services, and a humane, appropriately sized jail. A responsibly sized jail will ensure reasonable operating costs, leaving funds available for programs that help keep the community safer. We agree with this vision and are committed to seeing it through.

What will the county’s next steps be if the jail measure is approved by voters this November? The county council and county executive, with input from newly elected Sheriff Tanksley, will manage costs by 1) establishing and sticking to a construction budget, 2) hiring a jail planner to ensure superior value for taxpayers, and 3) hiring a construction manager to get the details right. A thorough analysis of the right mix of beds and cells needed will lead to a detailed and more affordable plan. Going forward, this will be a transparent process with ample opportunity for Whatcom County residents to weigh in.  

There are many details in building a new jail and providing social services that have simply not yet been decided. That’s why it’s so critically important to have a sheriff who we can trust. As your elected leaders, and those running for election, we are committed to treatment options and services outside of the jail, including inpatient treatment for those in our community who need it most. 

We are committed to reducing the number of people in jail through substance use disorder prevention and mental health treatment, reducing or eliminating fees that keep people in cycles of poverty and criminality, reducing racial disparities within our criminal justice system and reducing the number of people held in jail pre-trial. These are the kinds of policies that make a community healthier and safer, and save money in the long run.

Signators: Nooksack Tribal Chair RoseMary LaClair, Sen. Sharon Shewmake, Rep. Alex Ramel, Rep. Joe Timmons, Rep. Alicia Rule, County Executive Satpal Sidhu, Treasurer Steve Oliver, Blaine Mayor Mary Lou Steward, County Council member Barry Buchanan, County Council member Kaylee Galloway, Bellingham mayoral candidate Kim Lund, and Bellingham City Council members Hollie Huthman, Skip Williams, Michael Lilliquist, Lisa A. Anderson, Hannah Stone, Dan Hammill.

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