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More arrests for fewer dollars: Calls up despite tightened North Bend police contract

North Bend's new contract for police services is financially reduced for 2011, but the changes haven't been reflected in the department's performance so far.

Police Chief Mark Toner updated the North Bend City Council on the status of the police contract with the King County Sheriff's Office, noting that calls for service in the first six weeks of the year (161) are close to the level of 2008, before the city annexed the Tanner area.

"Our calls for service are only five above the 2008 numbers, and we've actually made more arrests this year," Toner said.

Comparing the call numbers to the population, Mayor Ken Hearing noted that the department saw roughly a 20 percent increase in population with the 2009 annexation, but only  a 3 percent increase in calls.

"The contract is working for us, there's not a reduction in service,"Toner told the council, at least not one visible to most people. The $1.3 million contract was reduced by about $80,000, but "Nobody on the street will see any difference. We'll still have the same number of officers," Toner said.

The biggest difference is in detective services, which the city will hire as needed this year instead of pre-paying for the year based on previous use. In the past, the city has contracted for one general detective and one domestic violence specialist. When needed, the city will request these services in 2011, but deputies will investigate more cases themselves. More investigation could result in less time for other duties, Toner said, but it could also save the city more money.

"I'm definitely treating this as a pilot project," Toner said. "It's an experiment that's going to take all year to pan out."

Another pilot project launched by the Sheriff's Office this year is an online reporting system, Report to Sheriff. The tool, available from the Sheriff's website (www.kingcounty.gov/safety/sheriff.aspx), can be used to report crimes that have no clear suspect, did not result in violence on a person, and have a low dollar value. It can save deputies' time, without affecting the staffing level of the North Bend Department, currently averaging 1.52 officers per 1,000 population, Toner said.

Throughout the year, Toner plans to give the council monthly updates, so city officials will have a clear picture of North Bend's police needs. Negotiations for the 2012 police contract will begin this fall.

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