Following action by the Brier City Council July 13, the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office will temporarily provide some police services while Brier searches for a new police chief.
The city council unanimously approved, at its July 13 regular business meeting, entering into an interlocal agreement with Snohomish County for supplemental law enforcement services. The city is already facing a shortage of police officers and now is searching for a new police chief following the retirement of Chief Mike Catlett.
The council had previously approved entering into such an agreement during its June 22 regular business meeting, but shortly afterward Mayor Dale Kaemingk said he received a call from the sheriff’s office expressing “remorse that not all of the department’s risk management had reviewed the contract” and they still needed a chance to do so.
Following negotiations over contract modifications related to liabilities and job titles, the council then voted to approve the amended agreement Tuesday night. “Probably the biggest thing that changed in the agreement was more involvement in the day-to-day operations of the police department,” Kaemingk noted, “more administratively and just working with our interim chief so that I’m in good communication with him about the things that are going on.”
Sgt. Nathan Alanis of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office will provide leadership support to the Brier Police Department by serving as an administrative sergeant while the city conducts a search for Catlett’s permanent replacement.
“Obviously, he’s the expert, he’s the supervisor, he’s the one that knows policing with our officers and with the staff that’s on that side of the building and I’ll be working in coordination with him,” Kaemingk added.
The plan calls for Alanis to work regular 10-hour shifts on Monday-Thursday. In addition, Alanis will be available by phone 24/7, and “if the officers need to reach out, he has supervisory backup that is always available for them,” Kaemingk said.
Councilmember Martin Krienke, who assisted Kaemingk in working on the sheriff’s office agreement, said he believes that Alanis will “do a great job in support of us.”
Alanis reportedly spent much of Tuesday at Brier City Hall meeting with city officials and staff. “Martin (Krienke) and I were both very impressed and the staff as well, I think it’s going to be a great fit to assist us in the interim while we search for a chief,” Kaemingk said. “I was very encouraged by that meeting.”
Prior to recent events, the police department was already having problems attracting and retaining officers, a struggle that many cities nationwide have been facing for a number of years. Brier is down to just two of its own officers after Catlett and another officer, who had also given his notice, both left their positions this month.
For those who may have questions about the city’s law enforcement costs under the interlocal agreement, Councilmember John Joplin pointed out that the city is “well below (our projected) budget because of the shortage of staff.”
Kaemingk added, “That’s not to say this is inexpensive, it is expensive, the fees that the county is going to charge us are not minimal at all, but we don’t anticipate a problem with our budget.”
Under the approved agreement, Brier will pay the county approximately $17,000 monthly in fixed costs for the interim administrative sergeant to help run the Brier Police Department’s daily operations. According to Kaemingk, that amount includes “a number of services that the county provides us that we would not have normally in-house because of their expertise, their leadership and of course their broad base of police support that because they’re a large agency they have that they’ll provide for us.”
County-provided patrol officers will cost the city an additional $122 an hour during their shifts in Brier. “The reason that’s so high is because it is an overtime, so the overhead costs are quite high,” Kaemingk said. When officers from the sheriff’s department are patrolling the city, they will be driving their own agency’s vehicles. Brier police will continue to drive their own department’s vehicles.
When fully staffed, the Brier Police Department has six sworn officers and a records supervisor. It offers a full range of police services including animal control, crime prevention, fingerprinting, patrol and investigations, and a traffic violations bureau. The department serves Brier’s population of approximately 6,300 people, which covers the city’s area of 2.13 square miles.
“I have been in contact with our officers and (the department’s) desk staff and we’ve been communicating about the transition and how this is all working and they’re cooperating nicely,” Kaemingk said, adding that “they’ve had a good impression of their meeting with Nathan (Alanis) so far. We’re looking forward to a smooth transition during this interim period,” the mayor said.
Krienke added that even before the amended agreement had been voted on, “the sheriff’s department did jump in over the weekend and get going.” That helped the Brier Police Department’s remaining officers with their workload during a time that was, “just not a good situation from an overtime (standpoint) and stuff for them,” he noted. “So it was greatly appreciated that the sheriff’s department did go that extra step there to help us out over the weekend and will carry forward until we get additional staff in place to take over.”
The Snohomish County Council will next have to approve the agreement that was ratified by the city July 13, and it would then be forwarded to Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers to sign. The interlocal agreement between the city and county is for six months, but it can also be terminated at any time by providing 30 days’ notice.
In the meantime, the county had previously consented to immediately providing a supervising sergeant to support Brier police upon the city council’s approval of the agreement. Therefore, Alanis’s first official day in the position was Wednesday.
Kaemingk said he recognizes residents have questions and concerns about the matter and encouraged them to email him and/or members of the city council. He noted they can contact him personally by email at email@example.com or by phone at 425-775-5440. “Everyone that’s called me with questions with respect to anything, I’ve always returned their calls and I will do that,” Kaemingk added.
The council also discussed options for recruiting a new police chief and reviewed a proposal to help with those efforts from Prothman, a consulting firm in Issaquah, which specializes in providing cities with recruitment services and interim staffing.
The City of Brier has used Prothman before, Kaemingk noted, and the firm was also recommended by mayors in nearby municipalities. “They’ve done a number of applicational searches for neighboring cities, and I got mostly favorable input,” he said.
Prothman’s $18,500 proposal for its services “is a pretty comprehensive involvement, it’s not inexpensive, but I think for how important filling this position is, I think it’s a good idea,” the mayor said.
Krienke concurred, adding that after reviewing the proposal, “I think it’s personally probably the best way for us to try to find a resource versus just putting out the ad in the paper and a few other things.”
Three councilmembers also recalled having contracted with the company in the past and felt that those had been good experiences. Councilmember Dennis Nick added, “I give them my thumbs up.”
During further discussions on a motion to approve entering into the contract with Prothman, other councilmembers also expressed support for the proposal.
Councilmember Valerie Rosman said she was “impressed with the materials they provided,” and added, “I’m definitely feeling more confident after reading that that we’re not going to be waiting for two years to find a chief.”
The council unanimously approved, by a vote of 7-0, the motion for Prothman to conduct recruitment efforts for a new Brier Chief of Police.
“It’s my opinion that finding a good chief is the foundation for attracting new officers, which is the second level,” Kaemingk said. “You know we’ve always been trying to find new officers but until we can get this chief position filled it’s going to be difficult to do that, so it’s a foundational move, and it’s a very important move to get that right person so that from that point on we can seek officers to fill the vacancies that we have.”
— By Nathan Blackwell