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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley leaders say they want to stick with sheriff contract for policing

Spokane Valley mayor Rod Higgins speaks to the media Friday flanked by Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven, left, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich during a news conference discussing the city of Spokane Valley’s law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Office. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane Valley mayor Rod Higgins speaks to the media Friday flanked by Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven, left, and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich during a news conference discussing the city of Spokane Valley’s law enforcement contract with the Sheriff’s Office. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Valley’s mayor stood with Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich Friday to declare that the city won’t set up its own police department, despite persistent rumors to the contrary.

Joining the sheriff and Mayor Rod Higgins for the announcement was Spokane Valley police Chief Rick VanLeuven.

The issue resurfaced earlier this week when Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson was fired by the City Council. Councilman Dean Grafos, who did not support Jackson’s firing, said the city manager was ousted because he opposed plans to create a separate Spokane Valley police department.

“It’s not true now. It was not true then,” Higgins said, adding that Spokane Valley is happy with the service it receives through its contract with the Sheriff’s Office.

The $17.1 million contract is up for renegotiation in June, and Councilman Ed Pace, who’s the budget hawk on the council, has previously brought up the possibility that Spokane Valley should start its own police department if it saves money.

Now, however, Pace stands with the other council members in support of the Sheriff’s Office contract.

“We simply don’t have the money to start our own department,” Pace said.

The Spokane Valley City Council will, however, discuss the creation of a separate public safety oversight committee for the city at its meeting Tuesday.

The current Sheriff’s Citizen Advisory Board provides public safety oversight and investigates law enforcement complaints involving the Sheriff’s Office.

In response to criticism that Knezovich selected the 17 members of the current volunteer board, the bylaws were changed so that the board appoints members. Twelve of the current members live in Spokane Valley.

Knezovich said he’s asked the Spokane Valley City Council to appoint council members to two open positions.

A group called “Citizens for a new Spokane Valley Police Department” has drawn nearly 400 members on Facebook, some of whom have testified at City Council meetings.

Two incidents are often brought up on social media as examples within the city of Spokane Valley showing why the city should have its own police department. The first is criticism of the investigation into the death of 15-year-old Ryan Holyk, who was killed in an incident involving a sheriff’s deputy in 2014. The second is the 2010 shooting of pastor Scott Creach on his property by a sheriff’s deputy who was in an unmarked patrol car.

Knezovich said he’s aware he has critics.

“But they seem to forget that I won the election in 2014,” Knezovich said. “I think it’s time to let all that rest now.”

Higgins said he hears few complaints about policing in Spokane Valley.

“We are very happy with where we are now,” the mayor said.

The contract is up for renegotiation every four years. Last time, it was rolled forward without any changes.

“I’m sure they will go over the contract with a fine-tooth comb,” Knezovich said. “I know the Valley has an impeccable finance department.”

Higgins and Knezovich said it’s too early to talk about how the contract may be revised.

The Sheriff’s Office has provided law enforcement in Spokane Valley since the city incorporated in 2003.

Spokane Valley police just completed a four-year process resulting in full accreditation. It’s the only accredited contract department in Washington, Knezovich said.

“We provide very good professional services, and we are receptive to the needs of our citizens,” VanLeuven said

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