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News / Clark County News

Clark County Sheriff’s Office providing police services to La Center as of Feb. 1

City council approves temporary contract by unanimous vote; search has taken over a year

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 1, 2024, 6:06am

More than a year after beginning its search for a law enforcement agency to provide police services, the city of La Center finally has a contract in place. On Wednesday, the city council unanimously approved a temporary contract with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

“We officially have police back in the city,” Mayor Tom Strobehn said.

Council members and residents at the meeting responded with applause.

Under the terms of the contract, which took effect Feb. 1, the sheriff’s office is providing one commander working half-time and two deputies working full time. Although the sheriff’s office personnel will be providing police services in La Center, their uniforms and vehicles will be provided by the sheriff’s office.

“Right now it’s month to month. We’re paying for whatever officers they can throw at us,” Strobehn said in an interview Thursday.

The city will pay an hourly rate of $95.95 for a commander and an hourly rate of $52.95 for each deputy. Any overtime would be charged as one and a half times the hourly rate. The total annual budget for a commander is $199,572, and the total annual budget for a deputy is $116,912.

Cmdr. Phil Sample, who is already at work in La Center, explained how the deputies would be scheduled to provide coverage for the city.

“Starting off with the two (deputies) initially, they’ll probably be day-shift officers,” Sample told the council.

With each officer working four 12-hour shifts a week, he said, the city will have seven-day-a-week coverage.

“Later on, as we progress, we’ll be adding more deputies to get a swing shift and possibly graveyard shift going,” he said.

Sample said the city would likely need to pay overtime to fill gaps “here and there” at the beginning but less so as time goes on.

The city first approached the sheriff’s office about providing police services in the spring of 2023 but couldn’t reach agreement on the cost. La Center officials then entered into discussions with the city of Ridgefield.

However, Ridgefield called a halt to the discussions in early July after a citizen survey found a majority of its residents did not support the proposal.

La Center then began negotiations with the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. While discussions carried on for nearly six months, the agreement ultimately fell through when insurance and indemnification requirements could not be settled. Had the city inked a deal with the tribe, it would have been one of few contracts for police services between a United States city municipality and a sovereign nation.

As La Center continued its negotiations with the various local law enforcement agencies, the Cowlitz Tribe and sheriff’s office have been assisting with calls and covering special events as needed. Rather than continuing to rely on ad hoc services, Strobehn said, the city needed a contract in place.

“Everybody was all for it,” Strobehn said. “We worked hard on it.”

The interagency agreement will also have to be signed by the Clark County Council, County Manager Kathleen Otto, Sheriff John Horch and the prosecuting attorney’s office.

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