Sheriff Bill Elfo, right, says the department will miss Jamie Collins’ services as a first mental health deputy. (Courtesy photo)

Sheriff’s deputy Jamie Collins goes from ‘life-saving’ to ‘life-giving,’ he says

  WHATCOM — On Dec. 31 Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputy Jamie Collins made his final 10-7 call, known to the civilian world as “out of service.” He admits it was more emotional than he had anticipated. He had started as a reserve officer — not intending it to be a career — and then spent almost 21 years in law enforcement.

  Retirement for Collins is not moving to Arizona to be out on a golf course. Instead, the Ferndale 56-year-old father of five will take his skills to a different need — as a therapist to those who have experienced trauma, from children and families to 911 law enforcement professionals.

  When he graduated from Bellingham High in 1982, Jamie anticipated being in mission hospital administration somewhere overseas and got a divinity degree from then Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland. He later put that to use as a youth pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Bellingham.

  When Jamie and his nurse wife, Jenny, had their oldest son, Kyle, now 27, he was born with a genetic condition affecting his brain and body requiring 24/7 care and special resources. Jamie and Kyle have been in many half-marathons with dad pushing son in a special running chair. Jenny continues to care for Kyle and her family while working at the hospital one day a week.

  Their family would add four more children by adoption, Kara, Nate, Zayne and Mia, with the youngest now 10. From being first with the King County Sheriff’s Office, Jamie came to the WCSO and the family found property here with acreage better suited to their needs.

  “One person can make a difference,” Collins said on the phone after his retirement was posted on Facebook. Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo wanted to talk of this special deputy. “He’s been a very good deputy,” Elfo said. Elfo listed off Collins’ duties in the 17 years with the department: patrol deputy, SWAT member, hostage negotiation, detective and, most recently, a mental health deputy.

  Many may not be aware of local law enforcement’s role in mental health response. A sheriff’s deputy is assigned to work with those in crisis, say when a family notices a member with escalating negative behavior, Elfo said. There is close coordination with the Whatcom County Health Department and the GRACE program  (Ground-Level Response and Coordinated Engagement).

  This is “a community-based effort to find solutions for individuals who are high utilizers of emergency and criminal justice systems,” according to the county website. “The aim is to offer intensive, coordinated services to these ‘familiar faces’ whose needs span beyond any single agency.”

  The goal of GRACE and the WCSO position is to reduce the caseload on the criminal justice system and to focus on treatment, Elfo said.

  While being the first mental health deputy, Collins was working behind the scenes to slowly complete a master’s degree to become a counselor through the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He started in this program some time ago, planning to finish in 2016, but took time out to be treated for prostate cancer. Now the program is complete and he is five years away from radiation cancer treatment as well.

  “The ‘c-word’ wakes you up to how brief life is,” Collins said.

  “I anticipate success for him,” Elfo said. “It’s sad to see him go.”

  While the Sheriff’s office will work to place another person in the mental health role by summer (from a list within the ranks), a second deputy, JeriLyn Klix, will continue as well. The goal is to have two deputies in the role, Elfo said. 

  “He is an extremely compassionate and caring man who has helped many along the road,” the WCSO Facebook page stated.

  Collins was used to hearing from hurting community members that therapists were in short supply. Now not only can he help some of these people familiar to him, but he also brings a first-hand empathy for fellow first-responders. He says many in the law enforcement field become a lot like a Teflon surface on which bad things don’t stick or stay, yet that isn’t fully realistic.

  “We (law enforcement) show up and lead by service,” he said, emphasizing that he sees life through his faith as being servanthood. “Now I stand for those who are suffering.”

  “You feel like you are Superman until ... you aren’t.” Seeing traumatic things again and again can take a toll. It adds up on first-responders.

  As a deputy he worked to deescalate situations, assessing what was happening and connecting people to resources. He got to know staff affiliated with Compass, Unity Care NW and Sea Mar Community Health Centers and those in the mental health profession.

  “I’m trading in my police cruiser for a (therapist’s) couch,” he said. “The need is greater than the resources.”

  Collins said he saw life in law enforcement as “life saving.” Now he sees his next stage as “life giving.”