Police cooperative on ice after funding for study falls through

Stephen Floyd

Plans to create a local police cooperative appear to have stalled indefinitely after funding for a study to evaluate such a cooperative was not approved, according to recent reports.

Vader Mayor Ken Smith announced during the Nov. 19 Vader City Council meeting a grant through the National Institute of Justice, originally applied for in April, had been denied, later stating the city had learned of the denial just after Veterans Day.

The intent of the grant had been to fund a year-and-a-half-long study by Seattle University to look at the feasibility of combining the law enforcement resources of Vader, Winlock, Toledo and Napavine, with the ultimate goal of looking for potential cost savings and increased efficiency.

Scott Sotebeer, former civilian chief of staff for the King County Sheriff’s Office, had stepped forward to lead the study based on his experience consolidating precincts in the Seattle area, but is no longer involved, according to Smith, in light of the failure of the grant.

Word of whether or not the grant had been approved took far longer than expected, noted Smith, as officials were initially told awards would be announced last June. But, because much of the funding was coming from the Department of Justice and needed to be approved through Congress, Smith said the approval process was being dragged out and word did not end up reaching the city until around Nov. 12.

Smith had originally approached the other cities with the idea of a cooperative at the end of last year when Vader was entertaining the idea of hiring a new police chief to replace former chief Sean Uhlich, who had resigned in November of 2011, effectively dissolving the Vader Police Department. (In the interim, Vader had contracted for police services through Winlock in 2012, and since January has contracted for services through the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.)

In an effort to provide backup for their potential new chief, who would otherwise be working on his own for an unknown period of time, Smith conceived of a cooperative between the four cities, which would have brought them under one agency funded by all four cities based on law enforcement needs, population and current police resources.

At the beginning of January, Vader’s prime candidate for chief had withdrawn himself from consideration, but Smith continued to aggressively pursue a cooperative among the other mayors, with a draft of a potential contract establishing the cooperative made available to local city councils in February.

Reactions to the police cooperative had been mixed-to-negative, with most officials in affected cities stating they would not support a cooperative without definitive numbers showing it would be cheaper for them in the long run.

Opposition was strongest in Winlock, where one council member refused to attend a workshop on the matter stating simply he was flatly opposed to the idea.

Anti-cooperative rhetoric also found its way into The Daily News, of Longview, who reported the mayors of the four cities had been secretly colluding to form the cooperative without input from council members and law enforcement, though officials had spoken about their intentions for the cooperative during open, public meetings since December of 2012.

When the grant application for the study was being submitted, leaders in all four cities said they would be willing to wait and see what the results of the study were before committing to or entirely opposing the cooperative. (It should be noted the Napavine City Council approved a resolution May 9, before the application was denied, stating their disinterest in pursuing the cooperative further, adding they may reconsider if the completed study offered a compelling argument for a cooperative.)

Now that the study has not materialized, it appears unlikely local cities will attempt to pursue further efforts to achieve a cooperative, with Smith stating Vader’s current strategy for providing law enforcement is to continue working with the Sheriff’s Office, though he said alternatives such as another effort to reconstitute the Police Department are not off the table.