Deputies swap duties, expand skills

They rotate into specialty units, back to patrol every few years

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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The New Year brings the promise of a fresh start for many. Resolutions are made. Gym memberships are bought. Budgets are tightened. And the Clark County Sheriff’s Office rotates deputies in and out of positions in specialty units.

The rotation, which typically coincides with the shift change in the first week of January, is designed to give more deputies a chance to learn advanced skills.

“It makes for a better, well-rounded, well-trained staff,” said Sgt. Fred Neiman, sheriff’s office spokesman.

That rotation brings a bit of a trade-off: detectives with specialized training, skills, contacts and a reputation in their field (not to mention four to six years in the job) are sent back to patrol; other deputies move in and take over, in some cases starting from scratch.

Detective James Phelps moved into a specialized unit in January. He spent six months on patrol and was a school resource officer at Heritage High School in the past. Now, he’s one of two new detectives at the Children’s Justice Center, or CJC, a unit that investigates child abuse cases.

Phelps and Detective Brendan McCarthy are replacing longtime CJC detectives Cindy Bull and Evvie Oman.

Bull was in the unit for about 11 years on three different rotations. She spent the last six years in the unit before moving to patrol in the first week of January. She said she has worked just under 1,400 cases and has more than 700 hours of specialized training.

She’s on the fence about the rotation. She understands it gives deputies an opportunity to do specialized assignments but thinks having a high level of experience goes a long way in court, with families and with other agencies she dealt with as a CJC detective.

Phelps can see good arguments for both sides of the issue.

Anyone in a specialized assignment will build experience and contacts that can’t be replaced, he said. But “it’s great to have people who are well-rounded.” Different experiences help detectives build their “tool kit,” he said.

McCarthy, a former teacher, said new guys come in “fired up.” Detectives can also bring everything they’ve learned outside of the job to the table, he said.

He said he notices when things don’t sound right from the perspective of a parent or teacher.

“If you ever feel like a finished product, you shouldn’t be doing the job anymore,” McCarthy said.

Detective Barry Folsom has one year left on his assignment as a detective in the CJC. He has rotated out of the unit before but said “it wasn’t too difficult to come back.”

In May, he filled in as a patrol deputy during shortages. He said there were a few situations where he used his CJC experience in the field responding to calls of children with broken bones or other calls involving children.

“I was acting like a mobile detective at the time,” he said.

Bull said she hasn’t really been able to use her specialized CJC training while on patrol. There are advantages, she said. Working in specialty units helped her understand what prosecutors would need to take a case to trial. She can make sure her work on patrol supports that instead of just focusing on what is needed to make an arrest.

She’s is appreciative of her job and said ultimately she’ll go wherever she is needed.

“I’ve always known it’s the sheriff’s house and the sheriff’s rules,” she said. “When you sign up for law enforcement, you sign up for patrol and everything else is icing on the cake for me.”

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.