October 22, 2009 in Washington Voices

Report praises police operation in Valley

City Council members say they plan to stick with Sheriff’s Office
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Like an orchestra after a discordant warm-up, Spokane Valley’s police contract players began hitting the same notes at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“Go figure,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said afterward, smiling.

He found some good things in a $126,500 consulting report from the International City/County Management Association that had his blood boiling a couple of weeks ago.

The city contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for police service, but city-county relations have been strained.

On Tuesday, though, consultants lavished praise on the sheriff’s Spokane Valley operation, and City Council members patted everyone on the back.

About 100 people packed the council chamber for the politically sensitive report, including County Commissioners Bonnie Mager and Mark Richard.

Richard has exchanged bitter words with Mayor Rich Munson over city-county contract disputes, but both commissioners remained silent Tuesday.

City officials concluded in 2007 that the county was charging too much under the police contract and subsequently stopped paying a portion of the bill.

The dispute remains active although the city has now paid the amount it owed.

When county commissioners announced in December that they would cancel the city’s contract for snowplowing, city officials feared the police contract might be next. An already planned police study was expanded to include the possibility of forming an independent department.

Council members said they just wanted to be prepared, and have been at pains to assure a restive public that they plan to stick with the sheriff. Based on testimony at public meetings, residents like the service.

“Now that we have Plan B in place, we can make Plan A a lot better,” Munson said Tuesday.

“I think you summed it up nicely when you said you have a fine law enforcement operation here,” consulting team leader Leonard Matarese told Munson. “We didn’t find any red flag.”

For his part, Knezovich said the consultants had a good point about the need for shift changes to provide better evening coverage. He asked for more specific advice.

Knezovich also acknowledged the need for better methods of evaluating staffing needs and performance. He said he’s working on it.

Matarese reiterated that the consultants’ report makes no recommendation about whether the city should form its own police department.

In fact, contracting for police service significantly reduces the city’s legal liability, according to consultant George Aylesworth, retired chief of the Miami-Dade (Fla.) Police Department’s legal bureau.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the consultants’ report was an estimate that the city could save about $1.1 million a year if it formed its own police department.

However, the savings would result from eliminating the equivalent of 13½ commissioned officers and replacing some of them with civilian support positions.

Consultant Patricia Kettles said her analysis of personnel costs assumed officers in an independent department would be paid the same as sheriff’s deputies.

Matarese said the consultants recommended moving from a contract in which the city buys services instead of a certain number of “bodies.”

Knezovich said his office already is working on a formula to do that, and invited city officials to share their ideas.

He said he has been designated to negotiate a new contract with the city, and wanted to get started right away.

The sheriff said he is committed to improving city-county relations because, without the Spokane Valley contract, law enforcement will suffer in unincorporated areas as well as the city.


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