Opinion: Police switch in North Bend needs careful consideration of accountability, tradition

Midnight on January 1, 1974, was when North Bend’s boys in blue hung up their old uniforms. King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Toner remembers the date of the big change, when the county took over for North Bend’s own city force. It’s part of a historical file kept at the North Bend substation, the city’s police station, covering 39 years of local police history.

Continuity is important for Toner, who is the latest in a long line of police chiefs who have worked for North Bend in county uniform. He might be the last.

On Tuesday, April 17, North Bend will take public comment on a possible police contract change. North Bend wants to save money on police coverage, and is once again considering buying service from Snoqualmie instead of the King County Sheriff.

North Bend’s got a lot of options here. It’s true that Snoqualmie officers have a lot of community links with North Bend, and I have no complaints about their municipal force.

However,  it’s my opinion that North Bend will lose out if it loses its own police chief—Toner walks the walk of a local chief, and has certainly earned his stripes—along with all the community policing that he, his officers and administrative staff like Kym Smith bring.

Their efforts go beyond patrols, beyond the station, to things like Project Santa Claus and proactive, street-level work. Whenever this newspaper reports on issues such as graffiti, homelessness, deadly violence, Toner and his team have been there with facts, professionalism and compassion. Their transparency with us, and depth of local knowledge, show that this department deserves the support and gratitude of the citizenry.

I am conservative when it comes to the loss of Valley institutions. The county’s North Bend police arm is exactly that—an institution. Bottom lines and hard realities must be observed, but if Toner’s crew can offer a fair deal, they deserve to stay.

You can have your say on this matter at a council meeting, 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, at Mount Si Senior Center. Public comment is taken early in the meeting.


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