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News / Clark County News

Clark County mulls new public safety deal with ilani

Cowlitz Tribe seeks lower cost for public safety contract as calls decrease

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 5, 2022, 1:15pm

The Clark County Council on Wednesday reviewed a revised contract proposed by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for county public safety services at ilani. The tribe wants to lower the amount it is paying because the need for public safety services from the county has dropped since the casino opened.

According to Clark County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Leslie Lopez, the 2017 contract required the tribe pay $400,000 per year, with a 2 percent annual increase, to the county for public safety services.

“At that time, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe did not have much of a public safety force in terms of their officers. Since then, they have greatly increased the number of officers that they have,” Lopez told the council.

With the contract due to be renewed in December, Lopez said, county staff began looking at law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, jail, court and medical examiner services provided to the tribe and whether any of those levels had changed.

Lopez said what they discovered was that the level of services provided dropped in 2022.

For example, in 2019, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office was the primary responder or was deployed as backup for 351 calls from the Cowlitz Indian Reservation. That number grew to 552 in 2020 and 546 in 2021.

But from Jan. 1 to July 31, 2022 — after the tribe ramped up hiring for its public safety staff — the sheriff’s office was the primary responder for four calls and deployed as backup for four additional calls.

“That’s directly related to the tribe building up their own police force,” Lopez said.

Fewer calls to respond to means fewer arrests, bookings at the jail and cases to prosecute.

In 2019, the prosecuting attorney’s office had 31 cases from the Cowlitz Indian Reservation, Lopez said. That dropped to 17 cases in 2020 and 12 in 2021.

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe offered a revised contract of $120,000 per year for two years to bridge the gap between county-provided services and the tribe’s public safety staff.

Lopez noted that the casino’s new hotel is slated to open in April and could mean more calls for the sheriff’s office. Lopez said staff would continue to track services provided, and any changes could be renegotiated before the next contract renewal.

Lopez will bring a negotiated contract back before the council for approval within the coming weeks, although a specific date has not yet been set.