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Police cooperative details emerge: city leaders prepared to move forward with discussions

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City leaders are now in possession a draft interlocal agreement seeking to create a Joint Law Enforcement Agency between Napavine, Winlock, Toledo and Vader.

Presented to the mayors of each city yesterday, as well as the Winlock City Council during their meeting last night, Vader City Attorney Jim Buzzard said the draft serves primarily as a starting point for the agreement and is far from ready for council approval.

“The document here is the framework for you to think about it and discuss it,” he told Winlock, stating he will be discussing the same document with the other cities during their upcoming council meetings.

According to the draft, a Joint Law Enforcement Agency would be a branch of the four Member Cities, not a separate entity unto itself. It would be led by a five-member Agency Board including one representative from each city chosen from among administrators and officials, and one member of law enforcement who would chair the board.

The agency would be funded through each of the four cities, who would pay a percentage based on population, land area, law enforcement needs and average law enforcement expenses. Buzzard said these numbers would be reexamined every year when the board approves its annual budget, but should not vary greatly because population and area usually remain stable.

“The budget will rise and fall, the law enforcement will rise and fall, but we will also maintain come consistency because population and land area will not fluctuate as much,” said Buzzard. “If one town takes up a lot of time from the Joint Law Enforcement Agency, then it’s not fair for the other towns to pitch in.”

In addition to collaborative funds, the draft states cities would give control of “all property of each Member City’s Police Department,” to the board, which would include vehicles, radio equipment and any real or personal property related to law enforcement. Each city would retain ownership of its property, but its use, distribution and surplus status would be determined by the board.

The board will also be responsible for hiring a Chief Law Enforcement Officer to oversee the whole area, which Buzzard said is one of the many cost-saving advantages that could come about from the agency as cities would not have to pay for an individual chief.

“There are duplicative costs for each city,” said Buzzard, adding the savings from operating one law enforcement headquarters with fewer staff would be spread out among Member Cities. “Every municipality, or agency, is always looking for a way to conserve money.”

One concern the draft did not address is how union members would retain their membership status, as officers policing the four cities would no longer be employees of the city but employees of the board, according to the document. Napavine and Winlock officers are all members of Teamsters Local 252 and Vader has negotiated with them in the past but has neglected to in recent years due to large-scale restructuring of city staff. Toledo police are not a member of a union at this time.

When asked about unions by Winlock City Council Member Dennis Korpi, Buzzard said the topic was “one of the major things to be considered” as city leaders discuss what they would want a cooperative agency to look like, if they preferred one at all.

“If this is something they [city councils] find out they aren’t interested in, then we don’t need to cross that bridge,” said Buzzard of the draft agreement, restating the document he presented was tentative and primarily an example of what the Joint Law Enforcement Agency could look like. “It may lead to nowhere. It may lead to a great idea.”

Napavine will be meeting to discuss the same contract with Buzzard tonight, while Toledo and Vader will be meeting Feb. 19. Buzzard said he will also be giving a copy to the State Attorney General’s Office, the Association of Washington Cities and the Criminal Justice Training Commission to make sure the terms of the draft would meet their requirements and expectations.

The Winlock City Council endorsed moving forward with developing the potential cooperative, though it was emphasized larger cities like Winlock should not simply end up funneling resources to the smaller cities without a return.

“Questions do have to be answered,” said Council Member Pat Anderson, “but I see no reason why we shouldn’t look for some of those answers.”

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