Commissioners propose creation of regional police force

Spokane County commissioners are asking Spokane Mayor-elect David Condon to consider a proposal to consolidate the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Police Department into one law enforcement agency.

The reason? Public safety is still the number one expense for county commissioners who keep losing their tax base to city annexations. Both the city and county are looking for ways to save money and still fight crime and a regional police force may be one way to do that.

City police and county sheriff’s deputies have already pooled their resources when it comes to fighting gangs or defusing explosives. So the question is why does the community need two separate SWAT teams and two different drug units?

“If we wait for this dialogue just to happen between law enforcement agencies we will spend a lot of time debating turf. We’ll spend a lot of time debating empires and all that kind of stuff,” County commissioner Todd Mielke said. “I think it’s time for this discussion to go the higher policy makers in the community.”

That’s why county commissioners sent a letter to Mayor-elect Condon indicating the commissioners want to talk to him about the idea and whether or not the city and county avoid duplicate law enforcement costs including management.

“Are we spending more than we need to be spending on the administrative pieces of it? And can we either realize those savings in our general fund or taking those savings and invest them in the front line were people see the difference,” Mielke said.

Combining the departments could take several years and actually cost taxpayers more if the wages deputies make are brought in line with the higher paid city officers.

Contracts will have to be re-negotiated but, commissioners say, in the long run the metro policing idea might be the best deal for the public.

“I really don’t care what color the police car is, I don’t care what color the uniform is. I want people to respond in a timely manner when I need help,” Mielke said.

One of the reasons the commissioners are bringing this idea to the forefront now is that they say now is the time to talk about metro policing before Spokane hires a new police chief.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has offered to work as the city’s interim chief and if that happens, then we’ll have already taken a significant step toward having a regional police force here in the future.