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Officials agree on criminal justice collaboration

Spokane city and county leaders today announced the latest step in a proposal to combine the region’s criminal justice system.

Spokane Mayor David Condon and Spokane County Commissioners Todd Mielke and Mark Richard all support the idea, which would look to combine the jail, courts, prosecution, public defenders and probation — everything except law enforcement, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said.

“We started with a discussion around the costs of incarceration, but realized that was far too limiting,” Condon said in the prepared statement. “The jail is the last stop in the system. We can’t achieve the savings and community benefits we need if we never address what’s happening in other places in the system.”

County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has long been a proponent of combining law enforcement and said that several functions, such as dispatch and records keeping, already have been combined.

Frank Straub, Spokane’s new director of law enforcement, was hired in part because he has experience overseeing a metropolitan policing model that relies on many joint services, Condon has said.

City and county leaders are proposing to hire an executive-level consultant to help guide elected officials through the process, the release said.

“Both county and city leaders are looking at budgets to see where they can come up with dollars,” Feist said. “It’s probably mid-year 2013 before a person can be brought aboard.”

After city and county leaders agreed in July to seek criminal justice reforms, they are now expecting by the end of this month to have an outline of what that collaboration will look like, city spokeswoman Feist said in the release.

“We recognize that local government can no longer afford to continue performing duplicative services,” Commissioner Mark Richard said in the release. “Today, we’re saying we will first research and then implement efficiencies to achieve our goals of lower costs and improved delivery of justice.”

To pay for the process, the city is applying for a Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge grant that has a stated goal of finding and spreading innovative local solutions to national problems.

If local leaders are turned down for the grant, Feist said, they’ll “look for other sources” of money to fund the reforms.

“We understand that there is significant competition for those awards, but communities across the nation need to figure out how to do this better,” City Administrator Theresa Sanders said in the release. “The process also allowed us to solidify our thinking and get the project rolling.”

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