Sheriff Rummel looks ahead to new year

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Sanders County Sheriff Tom Rummel, left, chats with Don Bell, the Lake County sheriff, after Rummel was sworn in for another term at a Dec. 27 ceremony at the courthouse in Thompson Falls. (Joe Sova/Clark Fork Valley Press)

Sanders County Sheriff Tom Rummel begins his third term with a lot more resources than he had when he started.

An increase from four to eight deputies has improved coverage in the county, and helps reduce deputy burnout, he says.

A new records system brought increased efficiency and much improved technical support, plus the ability to easily query reports such as how many domestic violence or DUI calls were received in a time frame.

A modernized fleet of patrol vehicles improves safety and maintenance needs, and a new drug dog and Reserve Deputy handler (Lynn Lanzoni) have stepped into service.

The increased budget for these items comes from the existing Sanders County budget and not from outside sources, Rummel says, so other county programs have had to be reduced.

“This reflects what the voters asked for,” Rummel said. “Robbing Peter to pay Tom, so to speak.”

All of this has helped with response time and reducing deputy burnout, but it still is not enough to fully cover a county that is 115 miles long and 65 miles wide. Though Rummel says he is “happy with response time” on calls, he does look toward more improvements in the future.

One area where outside funds may become available is to increase pressure on drug activity, Rummel says. “Highways 200, 28 and 35 are main drug travel routes,” he says, “but it still all boils down to manpower.”

Rummel would like to see at least another four deputies on the force, and ideally more, to get the coverage he thinks is necessary. And in addition to their own cases, deputies regularly must take wreck pictures and reports for Montana Highway Patrol, which is often called to the I-90 corridor and unavailable for crash investigation in Sanders County.

The largest need, though, is a new sheriff’s office, Rummel says. Built in 1984, the current building is inadequate for modern-day needs including the fact that many offices have been squeezed into the basement for years.

“This is not a small undertaking,” Rummel admits. “Hopefully, the economy will increase in the future so we have more of a tax base.”

Asked how his views of his job compare with when he ran the first time, specifically regarding his then strong support of the Sheriffs First movement that stressed local control without federal intervention, he said, “The concepts have changed a little bit. We work well with all the other agencies — FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshalls, etc. It’s worked out well.”

Rummel reports that a homicide investigation from an incident last May is proceeding apace. “We’re gaining. It has been handed off to the Attorney General’s Office, Department of Criminal Investigation,” he says. “Prosecution will come through there. I expect something to come soon.”

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