Sheriff lobbies Snohomish to contract with county to provide law enforcement

SNOHOMISH — City leaders aren’t getting much closer to making up their minds about the future of policing in Snohomish.

But they are being courted by Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick.

On Tuesday night he described for the City Council what he sees as the advantages of a police-services contract.

The sheriff’s office could provide more efficiency, greater resources and better budget stability, Lovick said.

Snohomish police officers have sent the council a letter, suggesting a sheriff’s office contract could be good for the community.

The city has been looking for ways to close a roughly $1 million shortfall in next year’s budget. One of the most controversial options has been to contract with the sheriff’s office for police services. The move could save up to $375,397 a year.

Lovick tried to address what he perceived to be the city’s main concerns over contracting for police services. Those include the cops’ role in the city’s sense of identity, the level of community involvement by officers and the ability to get out of the contract down the road.

The city would maintain autonomy over its policing, he said. That’s been the case in other contract cities, such as Sultan. City leaders would determine the officers’ level of community involvement, not the sheriff.

“I can state parenthetically that I am not interested in running the day-to-day operations of your police department,” he said.

The proposed contract is for three years. The sheriff’s office has not had a city decide to go back to its own cop shop, he said.

Having a sheriff’s contract provides stability in police budgeting, said Rob Beidler, sheriff’s bureau chief of operations. He was on hand for questions during Lovick’s presentation.

The city won’t see costs spike if there’s a major event such as a homicide or flood, he said. The sheriff’s office can send in officers if others become sick or a new car if one gets wrecked. There’s less lag time because the sheriff’s office has more resources.

After the presentation, Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak asked Police Chief John Turner for comment.

Turner said the sheriff made an excellent proposal. A main concern, he said, was how long Snohomish officers will wait to find out what happens. He urged the council to make the decision sooner rather than later.

“That uncertainty is what’s really tugging at the shirts of every officer — every employee –in the department right now,” he said.

Several council members mentioned that they hadn’t actually seen the proposal.

City leaders plan to review the proposed contract with the City Council on July 19, City Manager Larry Bauman said Wednesday. They plan to invite a sheriff’s office representative.

At the end of June, the city seemed headed in the other direction. Bauman said his understanding in late spring was that the City Council wasn’t interested in a police services contract. That was why he declined an offer from Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer to explore a contract with that city. He had been waiting for clear direction from council.

The final decision will be up to council, Bauman said. He’s not sure they’ll know in time for his recommended budget, which is due at the end of September. The decision is expected to take some time.

The Snohomish Police Guild is recommending the city contract with the sheriff’s office, President Zach Brown said Wednesday. The guild gave the council a letter describing its reasons on Tuesday night. Most commissioned police officers with Snohomish would likely be hired by the sheriff’s office.

The biggest issues are efficiency and cost control, Brown said.

The letter stresses that the recommendation is not a reflection on Turner. Rather, it says, the economic situation has forced the department to make staffing cuts. The guild’s concern is that additional cuts would affect service levels.

Not knowing their future has been stressful to police officers in the guild, the letter says. The majority of guild members believe the sheriff’s contract is the best option.

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