Cheney Free Press -

Medical Lake has a good deal with Sheriff


November 9, 2017

It’s a topic that’s come up in all Medical Lake City Council races as well as the mayoral contest.

Should Medical Lake stay with its contract for law enforcement services with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office or sever that and restart its own police department?

Most of the candidates for office have stated they are in favor of remaining with the Sheriff’s Office for services, rather than restart the ML force, and perhaps renegotiate elements of the existing agreement. We think that’s wise, for a number of reasons.

The biggest reason is a question we would pose to those in favor of restoring the department. Are you willing to pay for it?

A sub-question to this would be what would the department look like, at least as far as staffing is concerned. A police chief, administrative assistant to handle office task, for starters. Chief at $150,000 with benefits — that’s conservative — assistant around $40,000 – $50,000 or more.

How many officers? Cheney has two per shift, three shifts, but then add in the need to rotate officers off, weekend duties, vacations, illness and unforeseen emergencies and you could easily get up to 8-10 officers. Unless you’re OK with one officer per shift, but that brings up issues of back up, safety.

You’d have to offer a good salary and benefits to keep them — the lack of which with the former department is cited by opponents as a reason to not restart it. Looking at nearby departments, this could be in the $80,000 – $100,000 range annually.

Vehicles, obviously. Those aren’t cheap, if you’re going to outfit them with the most modern requirements.

In a 2013 Free Press story, Cheney police announced the leasing of three 2013 Police Interceptor all-wheel-drive SUV’s, which most departments are now using, for $33,358 per year. That could save ML some money, but you have to replace the vehicles fairly often because of wear and tear.

Then there’s the miscellaneous like ammunition, continuing training and certification, office supplies, added liability insurance costs, who handles investigations, dispatch services, electronic records keeping and access. Oh, we almost forgot, what about the school resource officer — a must in this day and age.

It’s a long list. It could easily top $1 million a year, while right now, the city has the Sheriff’s Office for less than that.

A concern often coming up is the matter of response time. Those advocating for a police department claim this is too long with the county, and there is often no officer in town.

Response time was an issue over 10 year ago when Medical Lake had a police force, and no matter what, it will never be ideal and satisfactory to everybody. There are simply too many variables.

There’s also the fact that in reality, there isn’t that much serious crime in Medical Lake, and by serious we mean assaults, thefts, burglaries, felonies, things of those nature. We receive the law enforcement activity logs from the county for our West Plains Police Reports page, and the vast majority are welfare checks, noise complaints and traffic stops.

Of concern, for sure, but not something requiring so draconian a measure as forming a police department.

There’s also a certain amount of pride, however, that comes with being able to take care of yourself, whether you’re an individual or a city. Having your own services, such as a police department, reinforces the public’s identity as a city, not some municipality that must rely on others for help.

We think that’s part of this desire for a police department as well, and it’s understandable. But it’s difficult from a financial aspect to run your own police department under typical municipal circumstances.

With virtually no sales tax base, and being almost solely reliant on property taxes and grant funding to maintain services, it’s not a good idea for Medical Lake to try.

It’s smarter to negotiate and get the best deal you can from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.


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