Wash. PD sees staffing rebound, rejoins inter-agency drug task force By:


By Robert MittendorfThe Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

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BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Bellingham Police staffing has recovered enough for the city to resume participation in a countywide narcotics investigation squad.


Because of a shortage of officers starting in 2020, Bellingham sidelined its special units — including bicycle patrols, the drug task force, gang intervention, outreach, behavioral health, school resource officers and motorcycle traffic patrols, according to previous Bellingham Herald reporting.

For the past four years, Bellingham Police have played only a supporting role in the Whatcom County Drug Task Force, without committing manpower.

That’s all changed as Bellingham has hired 25 officers in the past two years, Chief Rebecca Mertizg told the City Council in a memo.

At the chief’s request, City Council members voted unanimously on Monday to add two full-time officers to the drug unit as part of an agreement with Whatcom County .

“We really need to have these good partnerships in order to deal with fentanyl in our community,” Councilwoman Lisa Anderson said. “For the limited staffing, I think that this is really the next best step in our expansion and returning the services to our community.”

‘A massive threat’

On June 3, the City Council voted to recognize opioid drugs like fentanyl as “a massive threat to our health, safety and general welfare,” vowing to participate in efforts “to address interdiction, and the prevention, intervention, treatment and aftercare/recovery needs of our community.”

Councilwoman Hollie Huthman said Monday that cutting off the supply of drugs is critical.

“Many, many prongs are needed to tackle our opioid crisis but this seems to be one of them, tackling the distribution,” Huthman said.

Where drug crime is focused

Mertzig told council members that being part of the countywide task force is important because a large number of drug cases are focused on Bellingham.

“A lot of their cases were already in our city so I felt very guilty on a month-to-month basis of not contributing personnel when most of their cases were being done inside of our city limits. Adding two personnel to their ranks is going to be that force multiplier. You can only hold so many cases, you have to prioritize your cases and having an extra couple of people in there would have I imagine a significant impact,” Mertzig said.

According to a report from Mertzig, the drug task force seized more than 33,000 fentanyl-lased pills in 2023.

Member agencies

Whatcom County Drug Tack Force members include police departments in Blaine, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden and Sumas; the U.S. Border Patrol; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Washington State Patrol. It’s run by an executive board that includes the Whatcom County sheriff and the chiefs of the Ferndale and Bellingham police departments and the Whatcom County prosecuting attorney.

Cutbacks in Bellingham Police staffing that were announced in 2021 were driven by a combination of retirements, dismissals over COVID vaccination rules, and resignations connected to disillusionment with policing and police reforms in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

Since that time, the department has been staffing only their patrol and investigations divisions, the two units that are key to answering 911 calls and solving serious crime.

Bellingham had 128 police officer positions in 2023-24 budget — up from 122 in the previous two-year cycle, according to previous Herald reporting.

Police and city officials didn’t respond to a Herald request about current staffing numbers.


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