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SULTAN CHOPS LOCAL COP SHOP
IN FAVOR OF COUNTY DEAL
November 14, 2008
(SULTAN, WA) -- After years of contentious debate, on going friction between a former police chief and two mayors and following a number of accounting and fiscal management issues over the years the Sultan city council voted unanimously last night to eliminate its local police force in favor of a contract for law enforcement services with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.
As of January 2009 Sultan's local police force is no more.
VALLEY REVIEW tabloid spread fear among some town residents with bogus reports of
Sultan "crime wave."
The county will begin delivering services to Sultan on January 1, 2009. The regional services agreement with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office lasts for five years.
Under terms of the agreement Sultan will receive a $30,000 credit each year for the county's use of its current Sultan police station as The East Precinct of the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff’s office plans to move its current precinct operations from Monroe into the Sultan Police Department at 6th & Main Street under terms of the agreement.
Sultan will receive 6.33 full-time equivalent employees (FTE’s) including a part-time lieutenant and sergeant, 4 patrol deputies, a part-time detective and law enforcement secretary under terms of the pact. Sultan will have a minimum of one officer on duty 24/7 dedicated within the city limits.
The use of the current Sultan police department office as the new East Precinct for the county means the city will derive some additional coverage benefit and extra police visual presence from the comings and goings of some 23 full time Snohomish County Sheriff's officers who will be driving into and out of the city 24/7 as they move on and off work shifts at the East Precinct.
The new contract with the sheriff's office will cost Sultan $4,362,397 over the five years. The contract payment will increase each year by 3% until the agreement expires in 2013. City officials estimated that retaining the local police force would have cost over $984,000 in 2009 to have 7.5 full time employees as opposed to the first year cost projection under the new contract of just under $832,000.
A half-time lieutenant will act as Sultan’s Police Chief and will report to the mayor. The same officer will be responsible for running the East Precinct that includes covering unincorporated Snohomish County as well as the town of Gold Bar.
Earlier this year Snohomish County Sheriff's Sgt. Rick Hawkins began serving as the interim police chief for Sultan. Hawkins will serve as acting chief until the end of this year and the police chief will take over starting January 1. Sultan officials have not yet begun the hiring process for a new police chief.
NEW CONTRACT FOLLOWS SEVERAL EFFORTS TO CHOP SULTAN COP SHOP: CONCERN FOLLOWED FALSE REPORTS OF CITY "CRIME WAVE"
This is not the first time Sultan’s city council explored eliminating the local police force. In the past eight years, many of which featured friction between then Police Chief Fred Walser and various mayors and city council members, the City of Sultan explored eliminating the local police to contract out the job with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Department some four times including this latest effort resulting in a contract to begin in 2009.
In 2007 the Sultan city council held public hearings on an earlier proposed contract with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office following and during numerous bombastic National Enquirer type stories that appeared in late 2006 and 2007. The stories reported an out of control “crime spree” in Sultan.
The stories were published in a now defunct small circulation Sultan tabloid called The Valley Review. The stories of the crime wave (alternately referred to as a "crime spree" in the stories) as reported in the paper were untrue.
There was a slight uptick in some crimes in the city due to several factors including the absence of one officer on extended leave due to injury. The reasons for the uptick were explained in a memorandum to the mayor and city council by then Police Chief Fred Walser.
No local or state law enforcement agencies confirmed The Valley Review stories of a frightening "crime wave" nor did the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office or the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. The Valley Review was the sole source of the crime spree reports. The stories often inferred in language and tone the Sultan Police Department was incapable of dealing with the problem.
"CRIMES WAVES": CONSTRUCTS OF THE MEDIA IN WHICH THEY APPEAR
Reports of crime waves or crime sprees carried in news media about any given locale are most often constructs of the news media in which the stories appear.
There exists no accepted industry-standard law enforcement or scientific definition of what constitutes a crime wave or crime spree due to the large number of variables involved in crime reporting, crime prevention efforts, the number of officers per square mile in a community, population density, the local economy, the number of poverty ridden areas in a community and other factors.
The Valley Review was operated at the time by a Sultan real estate agent whose half brother was a sitting Sultan city councilman during the period the articles were printed.
The councilman was often a vocal advocate of exploring ways to contract for police services with the county.
Despite The Valley Review’s crime spree stories there was substantial support in the community for retaining the local police at that time and the Sultan city council eventually voted to reject the proposed contract with the county and remain with a local force.
SULTAN’S FORMER POLICE CHIEF PLEADS GUILTY
In June of this year Sultan’s former long time Chief Of Police Fred Walser’s plead guilty to a gross misdemeanor, admitting he gave false information to Sultan city officials who were investigating a city employee issue.
The plea brought some closure to a long and stormy chapter in Sultan’s history where the embattled chief often appeared to be doing as much battle with city officials as he did on the street with criminals.
As part of the plea deal a Whatcom County District Court judge ordered Walser to do 240 hours of community service and pay the city of Sultan $20,000. The former top cop was also placed on probation for one year and was required to check in with the court periodically.
Walser, 67, said he entered the plea, because for him it meant admitting to a clerical error, which he says, led to the charge against him. Walser said he just wanted to get it over with and move on, adding he did not have the financial means to mount a potentially lengthy court battle over the issue.
The charge against Walser stemmed from a 2006 investigation into one of Walser’s police department employees, administrative assistant Caroline Pepperell. A neighbor with whom Pepperell had a dispute accused Pepperell of improperly using a police computer and police software to spy on the neighbor.
The City of Sultan fired Pepperell who later filed a successful appeal with the Civil Service Commission. In February of this year a judge ruled the city had been too harsh in dealing with Pepperell and ordered the town to restore Ms. Pepperell to her previous employment position and Pepperell did return to work the following month.
During the investigation of Pepperell then Sultan mayor Ben Tolson concluded there was sufficient evidence Walser had not been completely honest with investigators about Pepperell's conduct. Tolson later ordered an internal investigation into Walser himself, alleging that Walser had misled investigators.
Walser subsequently resigned from the force saying simply it was time he retired and he denied his retirement was the result of any problems between then Mayor Tolson and himself.
MAYOR BEN TOLSON'S INTERNET POSTINGS
After Walser’s retirement then Sultan Mayor Ben Tolson admitted to anonymously posting derogatory comments about both Mr. Walser and Ms. Pepperell on a local Sultan Internet message board. Mayor Tolson’s full time job at that time was as pastor of a local Christian church in Sultan.
Tolson later publicly apologized for the incident but gave no clear reason why he posted the comments about the two city employees. Tolson has since left both his post at the church and the city of Sultan.
This year Walser, a well-known advocate for making U.S. Highway 2 safer, ran as a Democrat for the state Senate against incumbent Val Stevens, a Republican. Walser lost to Stevens by 14 points.