Twisp proposal is tabled; Winthrop may hire 2 officers
By Don Nelson
Winthrop and Twisp won’t be combining their law enforcement efforts in the near future, but the idea is likely to hang around as long as the two small towns have police departments.
Some members of the Winthrop Town Council said as much last Wednesday (Oct. 21) even as the council was deciding not to accept a proposed merger of Twisp Police Department and Winthrop Marshal’s Office functions.
Twisp had drawn up a proposal under which Winthrop would essentially contract for police services, with most costs to be shared between the two towns. The proposal called for a total of four officers — a police chief and three deputies.
The plan was drawn up after talks between Winthrop Mayor Sue Langdalen and Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody about a possible consolidation of forces.
The most-recent exploration of the merger issue followed the resignation of former Winthrop Marshal Rikki Schwab in July. A deputy had left the department earlier in the year, leaving the department with just one officer, Deputy Ken Bajema, after Schwab’s departure.
The Marshal’s office has only been sporadically at full force the past couple of years. After Schwab’s resignation, Langdalen and Soo Ing-Moody began discussions about the possibility of merging the two departments. Twisp currently has two full-time officers, Chief Paul Budrow and officer Ty Sheehan.
At last week’s Winthrop council meeting, Langdalen led off the police department discussion by saying that for now she has decided to pursue hiring officers to bring Winthrop’s department up to full force.
Langdalen said that Winthrop had preferred a merger arrangement with a total of five officers including a chief.
Langdalen said Bajema supports keeping the Winthrop Marshal’s Office independent.
Council members raised questions about response times to Winthrop calls under a merged arrangement, and about loss of overall control.
“I think we are going to get lost in whatever happens with consolidation,” council member Jessica Sheehan said.
Council member Rick Northcott said he was uncomfortable with Twisp having control over the Winthrop department under the proposed arrangement. But he added that he still supports the idea of an eventual merger, and thinks it is probably inevitable. “I think we have to take the personalities out of this,” Northcott said. “I don’t want to be afraid of consolidation.”
Northcott cited consistent problems with turnover in small-town departments.
“Consolidation is the best answer down the road,” he said. “I think there’s something to talk about now that this has been opened up.”
Council member Mike Strulic suggested that Winthrop keep the merger proposal “on the back burner” while the town tries to hire new officers.
Strulic said he “would feel more comfortable with a true consolidation,” and Northcott said that he would like to see “more of a mutual agreement.”
“It [maintaining a police force] is a problem for both towns … and they [Twisp] don’t have all the answers either,” Northcott said.
Sheehan, who is on the town’s Civil Service Commission — which conducts the initial phases of recruiting potential police officers — said that it may be necessary to raise departmental salaries to attract qualified candidates. After a thorough application process, candidates sit through interviews with the Civil Service Commission, which rates the applicants and passes that information along to the mayor for a decision.
Ing-Moody said this week that she was not disappointed in Winthrop’s decision because any agreement needs to have equal interest by both parties. For a merger to work, she said, “there has to be a mutual, whole-hearted desire to do so.”
The two towns have a mutual aid agreement that allows police officers to respond to calls in each other’s communities.