Agreement in place as town seeks new police chief, officers
The Town of Twisp has contracted with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s office to provide interim police coverage while the town seeks to rebuild its police force.
At a special meeting on Wednesday, May 3, the council approved a contract that had been worked out over the previous two days between representatives of the town and sheriff’s office. It calls for the county “By and through its Sheriff, to provide police protection and law enforcement within the corporate limits of THE TOWN. To include all normal misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor calls for police response and providing for public safety and criminal investigation.”
The contract went into effect immediately. Under the agreement, which is in effect through the end of this year, the town will pay the county $500 per call response.
According to the agreement, “Police protection and law enforcement services will be provided to the town to the maximum extent allowable with manpower and equipment, including routine patrols and responding to complaints as appropriate, at the discretion of the Sheriff. In so much as possible the Sheriff will endeavor to keep the same Deputies assigned to patrol near the town and in the upper Methow Valley area. This will help create relationships with the citizens, businesses and schools and will allow the Deputies to better recognize crime trends within the town.”
If the town chooses to engage deputies for other assignments such as parades, they will be paid separately at overtime rates that will include driving time back and forth from their residences.
At last week’s meeting, Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said that, based on a recent average of about 32 calls for police assistance in a month, the contract will cost the town about $16,000 per month.
It became necessary for the town to make temporary arrangements for law enforcement coverage when the last of its three police officers, Interim Chief Ty Sheehan, resigned. His patrol shifts ended on April 27, although he will be on the town payroll through the end of May because of accumulated vacation time. His resignation was officially accepted at an executive session of the Town Council on May 2.
Earlier, officer Stephen Purtell resigned effective April 20. The town has been without a police chief since shortly after former Chief Paul Budrow was elected county sheriff in November of last year. So far, the town has had no applicants for the chief’s position despite its recruitment efforts. Hiring a chief will be a priority, and the town is looking into both a hiring bonus and an increased salary figure for the department’s top position.
Best short-term solution
At last week’s special council meeting, Sheriff’s Office Chief Criminal Deputy Rick Balam appeared via internet to discuss the contract with the town. Part of the agreement is that a representative of the sheriff’s office will attend a Town Council meeting at least once a month.
“We will attempt to be in the valley as much as we can,” Balam.
Like many police agencies around the country, the sheriff’s office is also short-handed.
Council member Aaron Studen, who with Ing-Moody had been involved in discussions with the county, said the interim contract is the best solution until the town can hire a police chief.
“When people call the police, somebody will come,” Studen said. In the meantime, hiring a new chief will be “our No. 1 effort.”
The contract does not include animal control or parking regulation enforcement. All court services, booking and incarceration expenses will covered by a separate agreement. The county will provide and maintain police professional liability insurance coverage.
The agreement can be terminated by either party with 30 days notice. Such agreements are authorized under the state’s statutes.
Sheehan had expressed frustration, in interviews with the newspaper and email correspondence with town officials, with what he characterized as the town’s lack of preparation in anticipating that it would lose all its police officers by May 31.
Ing-Moody and Studen denied that the town has ignored concerns about how to deal with a reduced police department. They said the Public Safety Committee has been discussing how to replace Budrow and keep the police department intact since shortly after the former chief was elected sheriff, and the Finance Committee has been looking at budget options.
In 2017, when the Winthrop Marshal’s Office was in disarray and had no officers, Twisp provided police services on a contract basis until Winthrop was able to make some hires. At times in recent years, the idea of merging the two departments has been raised, but has made little headway. Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau has said she does not support a merger.