Photo by Laurelle Walsh: Winthrop Deputy Marshal Seth Carlson, left, and Marshal Dave Dahlstrom
BY LAURELLE WALSH
Winthrop Town Council members took homework away from their meeting last Wednesday (May 15), in the form of two sample interlocal law enforcement agreements currently in force in the cities of Cle Elum and White Salmon, Wash.
The sample agreements were provided to the towns of Winthrop and Twisp by the Association of Washington Cities, according to Winthrop council member Rick Northcott. He and Twisp council members Clint Estes and Bob Lloyd have been working together since last winter to independently investigate law enforcement options for the two towns, reporting back to their mayors and councils.
The three-member fact-finding committee looked into three law enforcement options: contracting with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Department, merging police departments, and one town contracting with the other for police services.
The committee first met with officials from the City of Chelan to learn how its contract with the Chelan County Sheriff was working, and later met with Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers to present a similar scenario that would create a Methow Valley precinct. Northcott reported to council that while “it seems logical to go with the county,” Sheriff Rogers was not interested in contracting with the towns, and “unless he wants to do it, it’s not on the table.”
Mayor Dave Acheson noted, however, that “We could get out of the police business and the county would have to cover us.”
Northcott stated his belief that merging departments into one consolidated Methow Valley police force would be best “someday down the road,” an opinion he began voicing at council budget talks in May of last year.
“Twisp and Winthrop high schools merged in the 1970s and everyone hated it at first. Then they got used to it,” Northcott cited by way of analogy.
Creating a police district would require considerable time, legal advice, public input and a ballot measure, and wouldn’t provide a policing solution any time soon, said Northcott. In addition, “There are no models around the state for a merger. It’s not against any rules or regulations, it just hasn’t been done,” he said in an interview.
The best option at this time, Northcott told the council, would be for one police department – “most likely Twisp” – to be the lead agency, with Winthrop contracting for services. “Law enforcement becomes a burden for small towns like us and Twisp. Having one agency take the lead makes the most sense, and we [Winthrop] just don’t have the facilities,” Northcott said.
Winthrop Marshal David Dahlstrom, addressing the council, disagreed with the conclusion that Twisp be the lead agency, especially when money management and police leadership are factored in. “Winthrop does more with less,” Dahlstrom said, “and the facilities in Twisp shouldn’t be a deciding factor.”
Dahlstrom also questioned why Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow had been present at two of the fact-finding committee’s meetings, when he himself had been asked not to attend. “It would have been valuable for me to be at those meetings too,” Dahlstrom said.
Council member Gaile Bryant-Cannon asked, “Are Twisp officers involved? Why not ours?”
Mayor Acheson replied, “It was never our intent to have officers involved. Paul kind of invited himself,” to the meeting in Chelan and with Sheriff Rogers. “Bob Lloyd said he didn’t care if [Budrow] was there.”
“This is exactly why we didn’t want the police chiefs at the meetings,” Northcott said, visibly upset. “I didn’t want it to be tit for tat.”
Twisp council member Clint Estes said in an interview that “one of our council members invited [Budrow] without my knowledge. After the second time I asked that person not to invite him again. There were no ill intensions, but I realize it certainly doesn’t look appropriate.”
Mayor Acheson said that some type of joint police force is “ultimately going to happen, whether it’s now or in five or 10 years. We now have an opportunity to have this discussion, but everybody has to be totally comfortable with it.”
“This is just a study,” said Northcott. “It’s totally up to us where we want to go with this.” He predicted that after council deliberation and public input, the process would be “wrapped up by the end of the year, with a contract in place by the first of next year or next spring.”
In the sample interlocal agreements, the smaller municipalities – Bingen, and South Cle Elum/Roslyn – contract with the cities of White Salmon and Cle Elum respectively, for law enforcement services.
In Cle Elum-South Cle Elum-Roslyn, the police department reports to a Police Oversight Committee. In Bingen-White Salmon the mayors are in charge. The agreements spell out terms for renewing and terminating the contracts, police coverage expectations and costs, equipment and transitional issues, and the responsibilities of all parties.
Mayor Acheson asked his five-member council to review the agreements and come back to discuss them at a future meeting.