Cashmere, Leavenworth want more say in law enforcement
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
CASHMERE — Cashmere and Leavenworth aren’t being overcharged on their law enforcement contract with Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, a consultant hired by the cities says. And it would likely cost them much more to start a police department of their own.
But how do the two cities get the level of public safety they need for what they’re paying?
That seemed to be the puzzle Cashmere and Leavenworth city councilmembers were left with Monday night as they listened to a consultant hired to help them decide whether it’s feasible to start a police department of their own.
The two Upper Wenatchee Valley cities have been unhappy with the lack of control — and the escalating costs — of law enforcement contracts with the sheriff’s office.
“In a lot of ways, we feel like we’re getting short-changed,” said Leavenworth Councilman Elmer Larsen. “It’s like we bought something, but we have no control on how it’s implemented.”
The two councils called a joint meeting at Cashmere’s Riverside Center Monday to listen to consultant Tom Davis’ analysis of their current contracts with the sheriff’s office. Davis also presented comparisons between the contracts and the costs of creating an independent police department to serve the two cities. The two cities shared the $4,200 cost of the analysis.
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett and County Commissioner Keith Goehner were among the 30 or so people who attended the public meeting.
Leavenworth will pay $478,000 for law enforcement this year, a 17 percent jump from last year when RiverCom dispatch costs are included. Cashmere will pay $464,000, a 21 percent jump from last year. Both councils have complained that those higher costs should offer them more customized service.
Davis said his analysis showed the costs were in line with what other cities were charged in similar law enforcement contracts. His figures also showed that setting up their own police department — whether it would be an unusual joint effort or one city contracting with another — would be likely be far more expensive due to steep start-up costs. It would also create several new sources of liability.
An advantage of starting a local police department would be in the amount of control the cities would have in how policing was done. Davis said that might be better achieved, however, through more transparent discussions with the county. He encouraged the councils to find ways to better define their needs and negotiate with the county to get what they want.
“It makes no sense to buy anything without having some say in how it works,” Davis said.
“That’s what we want. We want to be able to sit across the table from a willing partner and tell each other what we want,” said Larry Meyer, a Leavenworth councilman.
“No, we’re not partners. We’re customers,” corrected Tibor Lak, also on the Leavenworth council.
After the meeting, Cashmere Mayor Jeff Gomes said Cashmere and Leavenworth are small, but growing cities that require a higher level of police patrol than rural parts of the county. He said more discussion with the county would help the cities define a style and philosophy of law enforcement.
“It’s the relationship and having some say about what deputies do and when they’re here,” Gomes said.
Sheriff Burnett said it was instructive for him to hear councilmembers’ concerns. Costs have gone up largely because gas prices have gone up and because the cities have been undercharged in the past, he said. But he said there may be ways through officer training to better tailor their jobs to the cities’ needs.
Leavenworth Mayor Cheri Farivar said the meeting was successful because it clarified problems and started meaningful discussion.
“Any decision is still a long ways down the road,” she said.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
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