I love to think outside the lines. "Because we've always done it that way" is not really a justification to cling to a dysfunctional system. There is much duplication of services in my world. I am forced to think of ways to more effectively use our existing resources through broader based planning due to our tight budget.
If you could take the total number of law enforcement full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in our county (all cops - different uniforms) and combine them into one team, you could accomplish several positive results:
? An improved officer to citizen ratio
? The opportunity for specialized investigative units offering more expertise and more timely and thorough investigations.
? More efficient command and control direction.
? Much more fiscally efficient service delivery.
? Local control.
? Enhanced public and officer safety.
In Washington, local city and county law enforcement officers, Washington State Patrol and Washington State Fish and Wildlife officers all carry full police power commissions. This means that technically all of the above are legally empowered to investigate all crimes and enforce all laws. Our Washington state sheriffs association has an agreement with the Washington State Patrol that the sheriff's office has the "right of first refusal" with most felony crimes other than traffic offenses. This means that if a Washington State Patrol officer is made aware of such a major crime they deal with any immediate public safety concerns then make the chief executive who has primary jurisdiction, either a chief or sheriff, aware of the situation. A decision is then made by that chief or sheriff as to who will take the lead on the investigation. The goal behind this agreement is to put the officers with the most expertise and training in charge so that the public is best served. We have an understanding with Fish and Wildlife that is similar in function.
The fact that each city, county and state agency has its own chain of command and responsible internal bureaucracy leading to a different chief, sheriff or director makes for an unwieldy overall structure. At times add to that fact the local chief is appointed by a mayor and city council and the chiefs of the Washington State Patrol and Washington State Fish and Wildlife are appointed by the governor. Ultimately we all are accountable to our citizens. The people who take the responsibility to vote deserve the most control of how law enforcement services are delivered. My question then is, "Who is the elected law enforcement officer closest to the people?" The answer is the sheriff.
Instead of separating traffic, wildlife and criminal offenses into three specific jurisdictions with many duplicate costs in each area, doesn't it make sense to combine as much as possible? Combination under one agency would result in more balanced service to all county and city residents. One only has to look at the effectiveness of the PACNET concept. We have a seamless information system in place. Observations of suspicious activity come from all citizens to PACNET, a central location. Information also is gathered from all law enforcement officers and delivered to PACNET. A very clear picture of local city and countywide drug activity is generated by this excellent communication. That overall picture is used to determine the best strategy to combat drugs. This process works because everyone is invested and a coordinated response is generated. It can be expanded regionally, state and nationwide under the same model.
Wouldn't it be great if our entire system operated the same way? Make no mistake; we do cooperate well within the existing structure. We still have separation though in the chain of command, data sharing, communication systems, etc. We use the Incident Command System (ICS) during emergencies to coordinate resources and response in a crisis. It works better than everyone doing their own thing. Why not set up a system that uses it constantly?
Advocates of a state police structure may think I'm making a case for them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A state police central control system places power in Olympia. Control must always remain local within reach of the people to be truly effective.
My suggestion is not a power grab. If cities wish to participate they simply could contract with the county for law enforcement services through a memorandum of understanding, reserving the right to return to the status quo at their discretion with notice. I'd argue to the state that game and traffic enforcement could be coordinated more efficiently county by county. Even splitting traffic resources determined by county roads versus state highways might be effective. Currently there has been a loss of Washington State Patrol trooper presence on all types of roadways. Emphasis has been shifted to non-traffic coverages such as drug task forces, K-9, computer crime, homeland security issues, etc., by the Washington State Patrol as priorities are apparently shifting. Our state is unique in operating with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs as a quasi unit of local government. We do not need a state police presence. We can coordinate statewide law enforcement issues through our executive board, which represents every agency from federal to state to tribal to local cities and counties.
Sooner or later a state agency is going to make this duplication of services argument to the legislature. I think that local government owes it to the citizens who elected us to make it first, both here in Pacific County and statewide.