When the city of St. Maries hired Scott Castles as its police chief this spring, his task was to restart the department from the ground up. Five months later, he, the city government and the Benewah County Sheriff’s Department are fine-tuning their respective roles in protecting the community.
Right now, Castles’ main jobs as the only member of the St. Maries Police Department (SMPD) are to set up the administrative end of the department and enforce city codes and traffic laws. Most conventional crimes, like robbery or drug charges, are state law, and those fall under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office, although Castles can still respond to those calls if he is nearby or witnesses a crime in progress.
The city code for St. Maries includes public safety ordinances like preventing overgrown plants becoming a fire hazard or ensuring sidewalks and streets remain clear and unobstructed. It also includes local regulations on building, zoning and utilities.
Castles said he worked well with the sheriff’s office and coordinating law enforcement coverage is an ongoing process. He referred all other questions to either Mayor Tom Carver or city attorney Mariah Dunham.
“The St. Maries City Council made the decision earlier this year to hire a Chief of Police, primarily for enforcement of city ordinances; as such, that is Chief Castles’ primary focus at this time,” Dunham said in a statement. “The city council has also requested that the chief assist with parking enforcement and speeding, particularly in school zones. The chief responds to both state law and municipal code violations, and also assists the city with civil code enforcement. However, pursuant to the current size limitations of the department and the concurrent jurisdiction of the county sheriff, the city depends on the county for primary enforcement of state law violations.”
Before hiring Castles, the city of St. Maries had not had a police department since 2016. Since then, the sheriff’s office provided all of the city’s law enforcement, including criminal calls and city ordinances. That included a coverage agreement that required a certain number deputies to patrol St. Maries and be ready to reply to criminal calls, city ordinance issues and other requests for service. The city chose to cancel that contract, and the coverage agreement expired in June.
When Castles needed to be out of the office for several days in late September, coverage of city codes lapsed because nobody else was eligible to respond.
“We’re still covering criminal calls and things like that in the city,” Benewah County Undersheriff Tyler Morris said at the time. “It’s city ordinances that aren’t getting enforced while he’s out.”
The sheriff’s office has two deputies on duty at all times, but without a requirement to have officers near St. Maries, they may be anywhere in the county when a call comes in. Response times to those calls will vary depending on how far a deputy has to travel.
When the St. Maries City Council voted to cancel the contract with the county last December, council members cited cost as one of their primary motivations. Because everyone in the city already paid Benewah County taxes for coverage from the sheriff’s office, they reasoned, there was no need to pay the county again for coverage specific to St. Maries.
The city’s budget for police has reflected this change, declining steadily over the past few years. In fiscal year 2020, the city budgeted $340,000 for police. In fiscal 2021, which includes the first few months of Castles’ tenure as chief, that number was $305,000. The city police budget for fiscal year 2022, which began October 1, is $207,000.
The job posting for St. Maries’ Chief of Police position listed its pay as $26.50 per hour, which would equate to roughly $53,000 per year plus benefits. Benewah County emergency dispatch still covers the city of St. Maries, and the city pays the county $17,000 per year for that service. The city of Plummer, smaller than St. Maries, has a similar agreement and pays the county $14,000 per year.
In Plummer, Police Chief Brad Hampton generally handles any call that occurs within city limits, from code issues like barking dogs to potentially criminal events like domestic and family disturbances.
“I respond to all calls for service,” Hampton said. “Most days I spend doing VIN inspections and enforcing traffic laws. No day is typical; some days are slower than others, but you never know what you will be dispatched to. I am available to handle anything that comes out. “
He added that when he’s off duty, police officers from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe also respond to calls in Plummer, and sheriff’s office deputies also cover the area, but dispatch can reach him on the phone under most circumstances and he responds quickly since he lives in town.
While Hampton responds to all calls for service, Castles’ work in St. Maries lacks that versatility because his task is to focus on department administration, traffic control, and enforcement of city ordinances.
Before being hired as SMPD Chief, Castles was a detective with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, where much of his work was in criminal investigations. Though he deferred to city officials for comment on this story, he said in previous interviews that he looked forward to taking more of an active police role once the logistical work of establishing the department was taken care of.
“I would like to get more into enforcement, but you need the administrative side to get it going,” he told the Gazette Record in July. “Once it’s rock solid, we can get moving forward into enforcement.”
The original job posting for the St. Maries Police Chief role listed that department administration and code enforcement, among others, were “Essential Duties” for the position, but the most prominent requirement in that job listing was forming a good working relationship with the sheriff’s office, and Castles has accomplished that.
For example, Castles assisted the sheriff’s office with a drug bust in late August that resulted in the seizure of over a pound of methamphetamine and other drugs. Castles also works the day shift most often, but rearranged his schedule during Paul Bunyan Days so he would be available to respond to incidents on the nights of the event, just as sheriff’s office deputies were.
“I work well with Tony (Eells, county sheriff), I work well with the undersheriff and the deputies,” Castles said. “We help each other out when we need to. It’s a good relationship and we want to keep it that way.”