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Residents: Police study not needed

Thu., June 26, 2008, midnight

Don’t tinker with police service, a group of Spokane Valley residents told the City Council on Tuesday.

A proposed study of the city’s law enforcement contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office would be a waste of money in hard economic times, residents said.

With up to $16,500 in travel expenses, the study could cost $126,500.

Several speakers said they feared the study would be aimed at forming a city-operated police department to replace the one provided by the Sheriff’s Office under contract.

An outline of the study, to be performed by the International City/County Management Association, says its “primary objective” is to provide “an unbiased review” of the merits of keeping the city-county police contract “versus establishing an independent police department.”

“Do you want us to picket?” Marilyn Cline asked. “Because that’s where these people are at.”

Residents are satisfied with the service they’re getting, she said.

The council had been scheduled to act on the contract Tuesday, but the issue was postponed until next Tuesday so Councilman Gary Schimmels – who has his own concerns about the contract – could participate. Schimmels missed this week’s meeting because of knee surgery.

In the public forum portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Janice Cooperstein said residents like to get police service from the Sheriff’s Office because voters decide who runs the office. Spokane Valley’s city manager and mayor both are appointed by the City Council, not directly by residents, she noted.

Critics of the study not only liked the Sheriff’s Office, they liked Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.

“Ozzie is by far the best sheriff you’ve ever had – one you can communicate with,” said Chuck Simpson.

Mary Pollard said Greenacres residents couldn’t get city officials to listen to their complaints, including construction workers urinating in front of children and endangering people by shooting nail guns at a target. But she said Knezovich intervened personally and corrected the problems.

Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leuven, who is an inspector in the Sheriff’s Office, also was praised.

Deanna Horman called him “very, very qualified by experience.” She said statistics, prepared by Councilman Bill Gothmann, show Spokane Valley has the “most effective” police service in the state and the lowest cost.

Ray Perry called Van Leuven “one of the best police chiefs in the country.” He saw no value in “going out and hiring another group of people from somewhere else” for advice.

Chuck Hafner and Dick Behm also considered the study unnecessary.

In view of the economic downturn, Behm said city officials “need to become more frugal.”

The Sheriff’s Office provided police protection in Spokane Valley before the city was incorporated five years ago, but Behm and others said the service got much better when the city negotiated a contract with the sheriff.

Behm said crime near his creamery was so bad he used to carry a pistol, but “I haven’t found it necessary to do that in the last three years.”

Garth Werner agreed the sheriff’s service has improved under the current contract: “They’ve been better than I’ve ever seen them before.”

Council members didn’t comment Tuesday except to point out that they, not City Manager David Mercier, asked for the study and directed another action for which speakers criticized Mercier.

Earlier, in an interview, Mayor Rich Munson said “there is certainly a better presence” of officers in Spokane Valley now that a contract spells out the sheriff’s obligations.

Even so, Munson said, the contract was drafted hastily, without a detailed study. Now council members want to develop objective standards by which police performance can be measured, he said.

“You can always get a lot of statistics that don’t mean anything,” Munson said.

He thinks it’s prudent to take a more careful look at a contract that accounts for a third or more of the city budget. Especially so, Munson said, because Knezovich wants to discuss aspects of the contract.

Previous discussions, about replacing former Police Chief Cal Walker, “were a bit contentious, but I think we’re past that now,” Munson said.

He sees no movement to form an independent police department: “I think it highly unlikely that will develop while I’m in office.”

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