Looking forward, looking out: sheriff talks 2023, future

Proactive crime stopping and planning for new buildings are the plan

Last year saw “average” levels of crimes reported to the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, save for one category.

Homicides saw an alarming bump in 2023, said Sheriff Darrin Wallace, with two separate homicides in Moclips and a murder-suicide north of Montesano.

“We usually average one a year,” Wallace said. “We saw an uptick in homicide and violent crimes.”

The sheriff’s office also responded to approximately 260 domestic violence calls, 170 burglaries and 75 sex offense incidents, Wallace said. Deputies engaged in 10 traffic pursuits, and carried out about 6,700 traffic stops.

“I think we do a good job of catching criminals and putting them in prison,” Wallace said.

Wallace said he’s worried that an attitude of general noncompliance with law enforcement personnel from some may spread to the county. Wallace said the sheriff’s office is prepared to handle it if that becomes a regular occurrence in Grays Harbor.

“It used to be just 15 years ago, people used to be very compliant. Now it seems like it’s an instant argument with some people. Not everyone,” Wallace said. “We’ll take the hard approach. We arrest, incarcerate, and take them to court. Prosecute them. I think our community would support that.”

The sheriff’s office is also looking at how they can be more proactive against waves of specific kinds of crimes, Wallace said.

“Right now we’re reactive,” Wallace said. “We do a little proactive work with traffic stops and suspect stops.”

The sheriff’s office might receive a number of calls about a series of burglaries in a specific county, Wallace said, creating a hypothetical situation. In addition to responding to those calls, a specific group of offices will work on predicting and interdicting before the suspects move on.

“We’re going to give it a whirl and see how it goes. If it works we’ll try to keep it going,” Wallace said. “If we’re not getting the results we’ll tweak it.”

Wallace reported that while they were still getting tips, the agency hadn’t made any reportable progress in the disappearances of Lindsey Baum or Oakley Carlson.


In austere times, budgets are always a source of concern, Wallace said, especially for the sheriff’s office, whose budgetary weight makes it a target of proposed cuts.

“I’m worried about the budget. I am worried if it gets worse. I don’t want to cut public services. I don’t want to lose deputies or corrections officers due to budget cuts,” Wallace said. “The commissioners are very supportive. We’re the biggest person at the trough. They always want to take money from us.”

Staffing levels at the sheriff’s office continue to be an issue, Wallace said; while the patrol officers are solid, corrections deputies are bottlenecked further up the pipeline at the state’s academy for corrections officers, where it can take more than a year to get a candidate in the door.

“We’re fully staffed right now for patrol,” Wallace said. “(We’re) still down six in corrections. One of the biggest problems we’re having is the corrections academy timeline. It’s about 15 months to get them in the academy.”


As he looks toward the future, the facilities are the biggest issue, Wallace said.

“I think the biggest thing is updating the facilities,” Wallace said. “Our facilities right now, it’s a constant maintenance nightmare.”

The county jail is badly outdated, Wallace said, with an aged physical plant.

“When it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s 100 degrees in the jail,” Wallace said. “A lot of maintenance was skipped or never completed.”

Dangerous for both those detained there as well as those working in the jail, the county has earmarked land for a new facility, but the day when operations are shifted there is still a long way off, Wallace said.

“Obviously we can’t build a jail right now while the interests rate are 8%,” Wallace said. “We’re moving into design phase now. We have a meeting next month with the contractor.”

A unified public safety campus would include the jail, the sheriff’s office, the coroner’s office and more, Wallace said, consolidating the apparatus into one area and allowing for closer ties.

“It’s easier to communicate,” Wallace said. “Instead of doing it by phone, you can just walk down the hall and talk to someone.”

Wallace praised the close working relationship with the other departments in the county.

“We work seamlessly together. We work with the smaller agencies to help solve those major crimes,” Wallace said. “Our agency, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, work to help all these other agencies with anything that comes up.”

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@thedailyworld.com.