Cuts in the Sheriff's Office: what impacts for Shoreline and LFP police?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The King County Council is currently struggling with budget issues and the daunting task of trying to maintain services in the face of diminished revenues caused by the economic crisis, and a structural budget gap whereby inflation outpaces revenue growth due to state law.

The criminal justice system, which includes the Sheriff’s Office, district and superior courts, prosecutors, public defenders, and jails, accounts for 76% of the county’s general fund expenditures. The remaining 24% of the general fund goes to public health, human services, and general government operations, such as elections. More than $140 million was cut from the general fund over the last two years and these cuts were permanent. For 2011, there is still a projected $60 million shortfall. Without new revenue, the Sheriff’s department and other public safety programs will certainly be cut.

“Promoting public safety by maintaining a functional criminal justice system is a core government function and the county’s paramount duty,” said Council Chair Bob Ferguson, whose district includes Shoreline and Lake Forest Park. “After cutting more than $140 million from the general fund over the last two budgets, we have reached a point where, without new revenue, we must begin dismantling bedrock services that are the foundation of our criminal justice system.”

Criminal justice officials have warned that the roughly 10- to 15-percent reductions that will be needed to close the $60 million general fund gap for 2011 could lead to the elimination of about 80 positions in the Sheriff’s Office – in addition to the 96 positions cut in the last three years – and would reduce basic law enforcement services.

How would this affect police departments in Shoreline and in Lake Forest Park?

There would be no immediate impact. LFP has its own police department, under its own budget. Shoreline contracts with the Sheriff's department for a contractually defined level of service. Shoreline might experience changes in personnel, with the newer officers being subject to layoff and being replaced by officers with more seniority.

When it is time to renew the contract with King county, Shoreline can certainly count on a higher price tag for the same services.

However, both police chiefs in Shoreline and LFP, while cautioning that it depends on what is cut from the Sheriff's department, are expecting cuts in support services, increased costs for contracted services, and an increase in indirect costs.

For just one example, Guardian One, the helicopter with the body heat-sensing equipment, might not be available when requested, or might cost more. The K-9 unit might not be available when Shoreline needs it. LFP has their own K-9, but calls in the Marine Unit for Lake Washington.

There would certainly be a long list of small cuts which could throw the expenses back on our police. For example, now when someone is arrested for a warrant from another department, it is customary for the hand-off to be done at a half-way point. If the warrants division at the county is cut, LFP and Shoreline might be told to deliver the person because there is no one available to meet them.

LFP Police have already made cuts in response to budget tightening, letting go two officers in the last budget cycle. When Shoreline negotiates their new contract, they will be faced with rising costs and a budget shortfall of their own.

Photos by Steven H. Robinson


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