After deadlocked vote, Davenport City Council poised to abandon plan for independent police force
Tue., Sept. 22, 2020
A move by some members of the Davenport City Council to create an independent police department has fizzled.
After a contentious meeting this month in which members debated if it should abandon the use of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, both sides now say they’re satisfied with a proposed four-year contract to continue using the agency.
The city has contracted with the Sheriff’s Office to provide Davenport’s policing services for the last 20 years. The town, the county’s largest municipality and the county seat, had its own police department before that, but there were frequent lawsuits against the city, including one from a police chief who alleged he was improperly fired without cause. The largest town in Lincoln County that still has its own police department is Reardan.
A recent vote on ending the contract ended in a tie, and Davenport Mayor Brad Sweet said he intended to bring the issue back for another vote during the Sept. 23 council meeting. But last week, the city and the Sheriff’s Office said an agreement had been reached.
Lincoln County Sheriff Wade Magers said the city’s police committee met again to discuss the cost of running its own department and whether the city could create a new department from scratch in three months. He said he was invited to attend the committee’s most recent meeting on Monday.
“We had a nice roundtable,” he said.
Davenport currently pays Lincoln County $315,000 a year to provide policing from the sheriff’s office as well as services from the jail, prosecutor’s office and public defenders office.
At the end of the meeting, which included two of the three committee members, an agreement in principle had been reached to maintain the current contract.
“All of the sudden, we got to where we need to be,” Magers said. “I think it’s the best possible service for the citizens of Davenport.”
Sweet said the new deal will maintain that same cost for four years. More importantly, he said, it will dedicate a deputy to Davenport. The deputy could leave Davenport if there is an emergency elsewhere in the county and another deputy isn’t available. Otherwise, he or she will remain in Davenport, Sweet said.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, Magers said he hadn’t heard from the committee since he sent them a proposed contract weeks ago.
“We had put something together for their consideration and never heard back,” he said.
At a meeting on Friday, the police committee backed the new contract and forwarded it to the full City Council for final approval.
“I’m 100 percent sure they’ll approve,” Sweet said.
The discussion earlier this month about creating a police department drew anger from some residents, who said they wanted the contract with the Sheriff’s Office maintained.
Local resident Gary Sather was mad enough to launch a petition on Change.org. It gathered more than 300 signatures in about a week.
Sather attended the City Council meeting via Zoom on Sept. 9 where a vote was held on whether to cancel the contract.
“I literally watched them admit they haven’t addressed the issue amongst each other except right now to vote on it,” he wrote on the petition. “Seriously? They admit they have no real planning or time to prepare. Not once did they propose how to budget it.”
The city gave Lincoln County official notification at the end of last year that it intended to cancel their four-year contract. The current contract expires on Dec. 31. According to the resolution drafted in favor of forming a police department, the move was being considered over concerns about lack of staffing in the city limits.
Lincoln County Commissioner Scott Hutsell attended the council meeting in person to urge the council to keep the contract with the Sheriff’s Office.
“The current services seem to be working fine with no issues,” he said.
Citizens haven’t been complaining about the service they are receiving nor are they demanding change, Hutsell said, and starting a new police department from scratch would be expensive.
“The cost is too much,” he said. “I hope the members of this council have thought long and hard about the decision you make tonight.”
Several council members noted everyone with whom they’ve spoken in the community likes the service they receive from the Sheriff’s Office.
Councilman Nathan Hansen said he had seen three deputies in town just that morning.
“They’re doing their job,” he said. “I’ve seen them almost every day by my house.”
Hansen also questioned why there was a recent notice in the newspaper advertising for the chief of police position.
“Why was it advertised that we’re looking for a police chief?” he said. “We have not even passed this resolution.”
Councilman Lance Strite, who sits on the law enforcement committee that recommended the city create its own police department, said the notice was placed so the city could get a list of people interested in the job.
“To be proactive, we did create an eligibility list,” he said. “These are not applicants.”
Councilwoman Theresa Telford questioned why the City Council was not involved in the decision. She said she had no knowledge of the ad until a resident asked her about it.
“That’s how I found out,” she said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Other citizens indicated in a Zoom group chat that they wanted to comment, but no one appeared to be monitoring the chat.
Sweet, who works for the Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher and corrections deputy, said he believed the city is not getting what it is paying for under the contract.
“If things hit the fan, we need more cops,” he said.
Some council members said they were uncomfortable taking a vote and didn’t believe enough information was available
“It does feel a little rushed,” Telford said. “We needed this discussion last year.”
Someone suggested renewing the contract for another four years and using that time to fully plan for a new police department.
“What kind of coverage do you think you’ll get if you tell the sheriff you’ll only do four more years?” Sweet said.
Council members Strite, Patrick Katz and Heath Becker voted in favor of the resolution to create the police department. Hansen, Telford and Cory Hollis voted no. Councilman Chris Ruiz, who sits on the police committee, was absent.
The council will vote Wednesday on renewing the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office at Wednesday’s council meeting. Information on how to attend the meeting on Zoom will be posted on the city’s Facebook page. Although he expects the contract to be approved, Sweet said discussion about creating an independent police department likely won’t go away.
“I think it will continue to be a discussion, because it was a discussion four years ago,” he said.
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