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Sheriff's office relies on hundreds of special deputies

Staff Writer | November 19, 2023 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — To facilitate law enforcement throughout the county, Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris cross-deputizes police officers from other jurisdictions and swears in some special deputies who don’t have backgrounds in law enforcement.

In Idaho, peace officers only have policing power within their political subdivisions, with some exceptions.

For example, a Coeur d’Alene police officer may generally only conduct law enforcement activities within city limits, except in cases such as a violent crime or hot pursuit or when responding to a call for assistance from another law enforcement agency.

County sheriffs are empowered by law to cross-deputize peace officers from other agencies, granting them authority to operate throughout the county. This means, for instance, that a city police officer who has been cross-deputized can interview a subject in Hayden without first requesting permission from KCSO.

“We have a great relationship with the sheriff’s office,” said Capt. Dave Hagar, with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department. “For the purpose of law enforcement in Kootenai County, (cross-deputizing) is beneficial because there are more eyes and ears throughout the county.”

City police departments can’t cross-deputize with other city agencies, but they may enter into memorandums of understanding with other agencies that are functionally the same.

The necessity of these arrangements is somewhat unique to Idaho.

“There’s no other Western state that I’m aware of that requires that hoop,” said Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White.

The Kootenai County Sheriff's Office has 325 special deputies or special deputy advisers, according to public records obtained by The Press. Many are members of city police departments in Kootenai County and other area law enforcement agencies.

Norris said the majority are law enforcement officers who have completed Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, but his office also utilizes special deputies who are not POST certified.

“We have people that have special deputy status to do a particular skill set that they had in a previous profession,” Norris said.

Idaho law permits sworn officers to perform law enforcement functions for up to 12 months before completing police training, but the Coeur d’Alene Police Department does not allow this practice.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea because I don’t want officers with zero training and experience out there with a badge and a gun,” White said.

Even experienced officers who transfer from other agencies must complete training after joining the Coeur d’Alene police force.

“We don’t cross-deputize our people until they’ve completed field training,” Hagar said. “They have to be able to function as an independent officer.”

Norris said his office sometimes uses special deputies who are not POST-certified to investigate reports of sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination or hazing.

“I’ve used people who either have retired or have a degree or expertise in that particular subject,” he said.

Norris said special deputies who are not POST-certified may sometimes act on behalf of the sheriff’s office. For example, a special deputy tasked with questioning someone for an investigation would have the authority to order the person to answer.

“He or she would have to make a disclosure that any answers to any questions would have to be answered in a full and truthful manner,” Norris said.

Some Idaho counties take a less formal approach to cross-deputizing, including Idaho's most populated county,  which includes Boise.

“Our agency does not do any cross-deputization of anyone, really,” said Patrick Orr, public information officer for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office. “We just work together with the other law enforcement agencies in Ada County. There is no need to do that.”

Orr said there’s one exception. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office deputizes animal control officers who work with the Idaho Humane Society so they can enforce animal-related laws. Beyond that, Orr said there’s no need to deputize people who are not police officers.

Kootenai County Commissioner Bruce Mattare is among the sheriff’s special deputies. He is the only elected official with special deputy status, Norris said.

When Norris ran for office in 2020, Mattare was his campaign manager. Norris swore Mattare in as a special deputy adviser after taking office in early 2021.

“It means I talk with him over critical matters related to the office of the sheriff,” Norris said. “His communication skills are outstanding and very professional, so I use Bruce in that regard.”

Norris said Mattare advises him on a case-by-case basis about “anything to do with messaging,” including some news releases. Mattare said his role involves “just trying to get it right when it came to the community” and that he has not been paid for his services.

“Being a special deputy adviser allowed the sheriff to have more candid conversations with me about issues inside the KCSO and how that affects the community,” Mattare said in an email to The Press. “As an adviser (and now a commissioner), I recognize the value and importance of maintaining a strong relationship between government in general — and law enforcement specifically — within our community.”

After The Press inquired about Mattare’s special deputy status, he published a blog post elaborating on his advisory role.

“I simply provided advice to the sheriff about issues that affect the community, mostly through better communication,” he wrote.

There’s nothing “top secret” about his special deputy role, Mattare said, but he’s “not at liberty” to discuss the details. Special deputies sign a nondisclosure agreement, Norris said.

Mattare said he never considered whether he should give up his special deputy status after becoming a county commissioner.

While none of the county’s seven elected officials have direct authority over any other, commissioners have the final say on budgets, elected officials’ pay and some matters impacting other departments. For example, the board recently committed $9 million to complete two dormitory pods at the county jail, a project long championed by Norris.

Mattare said he believes his status as a special deputy to the sheriff does not create any conflict of interest.

“I don’t know how there possibly could be given that my job is to do what’s best for this community,” he said. “The only time there’s a conflict is if you’re doing something that’s against the benefit of the community.”

    Bruce E. Mattare