2ND TIME AROUND: SULTAN POLICE DEP'T MAY BE DISSOLVED
October 20, 2008
(SULTAN, WA) -- For the second time in two years Sultan city officials are taking steps that may ultimately do away with the city’s local police force in favor of a contract for police services with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office.
Local Sultan police may be thing of past soon
Sultan officials site projected cost savings of about $95,000 as the reason for the move, which, if approved, would dissolve the city’s long-standing local police force. Sultan has a long history of fiscal and budgetary challenges and may face more challenges in 2009 due to a deteriorating local and national economy. Private employers and local governments around the country have already begun eliminating jobs.
The difference this time in the proposed contract from the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office is the sheriff's office, under terms of the pact, might move its East Snohomish County precinct office from Monroe to Sultan thus placing twenty-three law enforcement officers at a Sultan base of operations from which they would cover not only Sultan but Gold Bar and other unincorporated areas in the Sky Valley.
However some Sultan residents might consider a possible drawback in the contract the potential for fewer officers to actually patrol the streets of Sultan. While the regional contract would establish a precinct office in Sultan potentially increasing the overall police presence in the combined Sultan/upper Sky Valley area in general, that model also has the potential of lowering police service levels in Sultan to a minimum of one police officer on duty within the Sultan city limits.
STAFFING LEVELS NOW
At present Sultan has an interim police chief and five patrol officers that comprise the local force. Sultan contracts with the Snohomish County Sheriff's office to have sheriff's Sgt. Rick Hawkins serve as interim police chief.
The Sultan city council heard a presentation from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office on the proposed regional police services contract on Thursday October 9. In a previous budget workshop in September city council members discussed three different police department business models.
"The City Council discussed three police department business models; in-house chief, contract chief, and regional services contract at its budget workshop on September 4, 2008," said Mayor Carolyn Eslick in a news release. "There was enough interest in seeing how the regional model would pencil out in terms of cost and service delivery, the City Council requested the Sheriff's Office prepare a regional services contract for consideration.”
Under the proposed new regional contract proposal the police chief would report to Sultan’s elected mayor, not the city administrator. The city administrator is a non-elected position. Local officials cite this difference between the current regional policing proposal and past proposals as a way to maintain local control of law enforcement.
Stanwood, Gold Bar, Index and Darrington now contract with the county sheriff's office for police services
City officials say keeping its own police department would cost Sultan taxpayers slightly more than $1 million in 2009 but contracting with the county would cost about $939,000 or a savings of about $95,000. Sultan’s 2009 general fund budget is set at $1.8 Million dollars.
SULTAN CAME CLOSE TO CONTRACT MODEL IN 2007
DURING BOGUS REPORTS OF WILD CRIME SPREE
The city of Sultan discussed contracting with the sheriff's office in 2007 after the city’s police department went some $57,000 over its 2006 budget of about $1 million on overtime hours and hiring temporary officers from other agencies due to staffing and officer health issues. That model would have essentially mirrored Sultan’s in-house police department and the 2007 levels of service.
Contributing factors in 2007 for the idea of dissolving the local police force may have been on going friction between then police Chief Fred Walser and then mayor Ben Tolson as well as a series of bombastic National Enquirer type articles printed in a now defunct low circulation Sultan tabloid.
"The Valley Review" tabloid printed in 2006 and 2007 a series of salacious Enquirer type “crime wave” stories that appeared to some local residents to fuel the flames of community fear of crime that in turn promoted the police service contract issue.
The stories of the crime wave (sometimes called a "crime spree" were never confirmed by any local or state law enforcement or judicial branch. No other papers in Washington State carried reports of the Sultan crime wave.
The tabloid was operated at that time by a Sultan real estate agent who often used the paper to promote his real estate business.
The articles, often alarmist in tone, frightened some local residents, according to the tabloid, into thinking there was an unchecked crime spree in Sultan. Then Police Chief Fred Walser was inferred in the articles via tone, language and use of selected quotes to be the primary reason for the lawlessness in Sultan. Walser was often portrayed in the articles as incompetent or simply unable to effectively deal with the crime problem.
TABLOID OWNER WAS RELATIVE OF SULTAN COUNCILMAN
The tabloid owner's half brother was an elected Sultan city councilman at that time who also wrote a column for the Valley Review. In several exclusive "interviews" in the tabloid the councilman was portrayed in glowing terms as an intelligent, articulate and well informed member of the Sultan city council.
The councilman was a visible and at times vocal leader in wanting to look into contracting out the city's police services to the county citing requests from unnamed constituents who were, he said, alarmed at Sultan’s “crime problem.”
The Sky Valley Chronicle has been unable to confirm as factual the reports of Sultan’s "crime wave" as carried in the pages of the Valley Review tabloid.There exists no law enforcement industry standard formula or definition as to what constitutes a crime wave or crime spree in a given community and to this date there has been no confirmation from any law enforcement agency in the state that such a crime wave ever occurred in Sultan.
Sultan has scheduled two public hearings on the proposed regional police contract, Office at 7:00 p.m. on October 23rd and November 13th at Sultan City Hall, 319 Main Street in Sultan. www.ci.sultan.wa.us for more information.