Towns discuss police partnership

Budget concerns play a factor for Winthrop, Twisp

— The matter of whether Winthrop and Twisp will join forces on law enforcement is still being considered by both towns.

Winthrop Town Council member Rick Northcott gave a presentation at the May 15 council meeting, but no decisions were made, Mayor Dave Acheson said.

“It’s basically just exploring a concept at this point,” he said. “It will most likely be in several more council meetings, I would assume, as we go forward for them to explore it further.”

Northcott said his presentation ultimately came around to the possibility of Winthrop contracting with Twisp.

“We’ve gone down a couple different avenues of consolidating, merging, forming a new department, with one agency being the lead agency and contracting with the other,” he said. “We thought that the best way to go forward at this point was with one lead dog, and other would contract with them.”

An idea to merge the departments and run it with a police commission has been discarded.

“A lot of people felt like that might be reinventing the wheel,” Northcott said, and would have carried a heftier cost.

The main reason for considering a contract with Twisp rather than the other way around, he said, is that the Winthrop Marshal’s Office isn’t as large as Twisp’s police department.

“It’s really not adequate, not in a good position,” he said of the location, in the basement of Town Hall at 206 Riverside Ave. “Twisp has a better facility and that would probably be the better way to go at this point.”

Twisp Town Council member Clint Estes said he agreed with the idea.

“It’s pretty much what we had in mind,” he said. “We’re at that point where we look at seriously doing it, but there’s a bunch of minute stuff that we need to work out.

“Everyone’s got to be OK with their budget, so it’s not a done deal by any means.”

Northcott said the towns are considering a five-person department. Currently, Winthrop is fully staffed with one chief marshal and two deputy marshals, for a town of about 394, while Twisp has only two officers to oversee a town of about 919.

Northcott and Estes both cited better police coverage as the top benefit of collaborating on law enforcement services.

“We’ll have more manpower on the ground in a department of five versus what we have now,” Estes said, even though the towns have a mutual aid agreement.

“It just really comes down to a budget thing,” Northcott said, citing officer turnover as another cost concern.

“A new officer has to go to academy – we pay for all that – they’re here for a year or two and then they leave. We feel like we’re just kind of a training ground.”

A decision likely won’t be forthcoming until early 2014, Estes and Northcott said, after the towns have both finished their budgets.

Winthrop and Twisp have been discussing the issue since January, Northcott said. Winthrop had considered contracting with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, but “they weren’t really interested in contracting.”

He said he had been in favor of forming a Methow detachment with the sheriff’s office.

Twisp went in the opposite direction in 2007, choosing to end its contract with the county and re-form its police department after two years.

Northcott said if one town contracts with the other, even that may not be the end of the discussion.

“I think ultimately in my opinion, down the road, I can see it merging,” he said.

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