Opinion | Tie that binds: With cops switch, two more cities are drawn together

The transition has been considered for years, but on Tuesday, Aug. 21, the North Bend council, on the strength of a single “yes” vote, made the bold step of switching police contracts, away from King County, after 39 years.

A new deal was quickly hammered out. Last week, Sheriff Steve Strachan received notice of the formal switch by the county’s oldest contracting city. By 2014, Snoqualmie police officers will be patrolling the streets of North Bend.

A Snoqualmie force for North Bend is an idea that goes back decades. It has its fans, its naysayers, its pros and its cons. Last month, we reached out to Carnation and Duvall to explore their police contract. It was our effort, before North Bend’s vote was cast, to show what contracting really means for cities on both sides of a police deal. Duvall is the provider, and Carnation is the client, but their relationship is interdependent. The smaller city gave up county policing years back. With limited resources, Carnation has limited say in Duvall’s police decisions, but its funding does flesh out the Duvall force. For good or ill, both cities’ law enforcement destinies are twined. Now, the same thing is happening in Snoqualmie and North Bend.

There are clear positives that can come out of this. First, it helps put an end to some of the semi-official rivalry between two Upper Valley cities that are, geographically, practically one. That, in turn, quells backbiting among our communities, and creates synergy. A lot of our Valley entities already work together across borders. Cities can do it, too.

A secondary benefit is the fact that a number of Snoqualmie cops happen to live in North Bend. These officers have been eyes and ears in the city. Now, they’ll also be part of the long arm of the law, in their own town. That equals strong local presence.

Of course, there are also the drawbacks of this change, starting with the fate of the North Bend substation and its staff. We lose some experienced officers and administrators; New distances may make it harder for county residents in the Valley to get the same response they’re used to having.

I intend to work with North Bend Chief Mark Toner’s replacement, Snoqualmie Chief Steve McCulley, to ensure that lines of communication remain wide open. I’ll also be watching to see how McCulley, a North Bend resident, takes over his role as advocate for the city, as, and I’m sure Toner can vouch for this, it can be tough to serve two masters.

Change comes to every community. Residents of both cities will no doubt be watching this process closely.  Snoqualmie’s challenge will be to balance the policing of a different city with its own needs. North Bend’s challenge will be to ensure that its police response meets its own unique situation—if the blotter is any indication, the two cities have somewhat different types of crime, with North Bend heavier in terms of shoplifting and theft, to say nothing of some of the high-profile murders and shootings that have gone on lately. The cities must also make sure that the connection between officers and residents gets off to a strong start.

The die has been cast. North Bend is trading an old, trusted model for a new approach with new promise. Now, both cities must work together to maintain and, with luck, improve on the foundation of the deputies’ work to ensure a safer tomorrow. And “together” is definitely the key word.


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