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News / Clark County News

Ridgefield police may lend La Center a hand

Officials discuss partnership, benefits of sharing services

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 30, 2023, 6:09am

The city of Ridgefield could soon be providing police services to La Center.

A recent study from Seattle-based Berk Consulting, which examined how shared services would work as well as possible benefits and risks, was presented at a Ridgefield City Council work session Thursday.

According to the study, La Center has struggled with declining revenues for the past several years and is exploring ways to provide needed services to its community.

Prior to 2017, gambling taxes from La Center’s four cardrooms were the city’s biggest source of tax revenue. That changed after ilani opened. Between 2016 and 2019, gambling tax revenues declined nearly 60 percent, the study said.

Following a 2021 review of La Center’s police services, another consultant recommended either increasing the size of the La Center Police Department or contracting out services to another agency. La Center began discussions with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for those services “but the sheriff’s office was unable to commit to providing services at that time due to staffing challenges,” the study reported.

After negotiations with the sheriff’s office fell through, La Center then approached Ridgefield.

“The two cities have a positive working relationship, and the two police departments have a long history of collaboration and mutual aid,” Berk Consulting found. “In addition, the two cities contract with (Clark County Sheriff’s Office) for many services and work with many of the same entities for services such as emergency dispatch and municipal court services.”

During a La Center City Council meeting Wednesday, Interim Chief Bob Richardson said discussions between the two cities are progressing.

“We’ve been in negotiations for quite a long time,” Richardson told the council.

According to the study, Ridgefield had 19 budgeted positions: one chief, one lieutenant, four sergeants, 11 officers and two support positions before adding two officer positions this year.

By comparison, La Center’s population in 2022 was 3,835, a 29 percent increase from 2012. La Center has 10.5 budgeted positions, which includes one chief, two sergeants, six officers and 1.5 support staff.

If the Ridgefield council agrees to a contract for police services, Richardson said it would provide La Center residents with new levels of service.

“In this particular contract, we’re contracting out or asking for 24/7 coverage, 365 days a year. It would be up to the city of Ridgefield to provide that after they have a period of time to ramp up and hire six additional police officers. Another positive with this contract is it would provide four supervisors, so almost 24/7 supervisory coverage, which we’ve never had,” Richardson said.

Richardson said changing attitudes toward law enforcement have made having supervisors readily available far more important than it was previously.

“Nowadays, police supervisors have to go to use of force incidents and investigate them. They have to OK pursuits. There’s a lot of demand that happens even 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning where you generally have a police officer out there with little experience, because that’s where the new guys end up, and you have a supervisor that needs to be out there supervising,” he said.

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A contract between the two cities would also include a detective position in 2025 to be shared between the two cities to follow up on investigations.

But Ridgefield’s city councilors aren’t ready to ink the deal just yet. Several council members said their first priority is to Ridgefield’s residents and they wanted to ensure service levels for Ridgefield wouldn’t be diminished. The council also asked for a community survey to be conducted to allow residents input on the decision.

Once the survey results are available, the council will review the results and continue the contract discussions.

Richardson said a work session similar to the one held in Ridgefield will take place in La Center next month. A date for the work session has not been set. He said the work session will give La Center city councilors the opportunity to review the contracts details and decide if they are interested in moving forward.

An audio recording of the La Center council meeting is available at https://lacenter.civicweb.net/Portal.

An audio recording of the Ridgefield council meeting has not yet been posted but will be available later at https://ridgefieldwa.us/government/city-council-meeting-audio-files.