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News / Clark County News

La Center City Council OKs policing proposal from Cowlitz Indian Tribe

Tribal police plan selected over Clark County Sheriff's Office

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 2, 2023, 6:37pm

La Center residents could soon see more police cars cruising the streets now that the city council has approved a proposal from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to provide police services.

The council voted 3-1 during its July 26 regular meeting to move forward with a contract.

In an interview Wednesday, Mayor Thomas Strobehn said he expects the contract for services to be finalized and signed within the next month.

La Center had been in discussions with the city of Ridgefield and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for its police services. Ridgefield called a halt to the discussions in early July after a citizen survey found a majority of its residents did not support the idea.

Ridgefield City Council members also had concerns about whether providing police services to both cities would lead to diminished services in their city.

La Center first began discussions with the sheriff’s office and the Cowlitz Tribe in 2022 but negotiations with both agencies failed to reach a contract. The city renewed its discussions with the tribe and sheriff’s office this year, and both agencies presented their proposals to the city council during the July 26 meeting.

Along with the Cowlitz reservation and tribal police being located near the city, Strobehn said the costs associated with each proposal was certainly a factor in the decision.

“The price was attractive and they’ve already been coming into the city to help out with things even though there was no agreement in place,” Strobehn said of the Cowlitz police. “I really think it came down to price and the connections with the community.”

The sheriff’s office proposal estimated ongoing costs at $1.5 million for 2024. The sheriff’s office would gradually move deputies into the La Center program, which would lower costs for the first year.

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe proposal estimated costs for 2024 at $1.1 million and included an option to support restarting La Center’s police department sometime in the future.

The sheriff’s office proposal included eight deputies and one sergeant who would serve as chief at full build-out. The tribe’s proposal included five officers dedicated to around-the-clock coverage.

Another consideration was how quickly each agency could begin covering the city. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe said it could begin patrols as soon as a contract is in place, while the sheriff’s office said the first pair of deputies, and a sergeant, could be in place by Sept. 1.

An audio recording of the council’s July 26 meeting can be found at https://lacenter.civicweb.net/Portal.