Thursday, December 15, 2011

Commissioners: Let Ozzie rule

Posted on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 at 11:20 AM

In this week's issue, we laid out a few simple steps to reforming the Spokane Police Department. One of those ideas — regionalizing police forces — came from the sheriff himself: Ozzie Knezovich.

It looks like the Spokane County Commissioners are on board.

In a letter written yesterday (pdf) to incoming Mayor David Condon, the commissioners said "It appears there may be a unique opportunity for this region to have a dialogue about whether a regional law enforcement is in the best interests of the public."

The point of the letter: The commissioners are ready for such a dialogue. 

And, since he's the one that brought it up, obviously so is Knezovich.

"We share the same building. We share the same records. We share the same property room. We share forensics," Knezovich told us for this week's cover story. "Really the only thing we haven't combined is doing business together."

But not everyone thinks it's a great idea.

Condon didn't rule out Knezovich's offer. But he told us he's received plenty of other offers, including many folks volunteering to be police chief. He's letting his transition team compile options for him before he forms an opinion.

And outgoing Mayor Mary Verner told us that she looked into regionalizing police forces when she first came to office but that it hasn't been "thoroughly analyzed."

She added that a recent report conducted by an Eastern Washington University professor suggested that regionalization wouldn't save any money — one of Knezovich's main talking points on the matter.

"More troubling to me is that [the] sheriff's office is a partisan elected office," Verner said in an email. "Sheriff Knezovich, to retain his job, engages in party politics. [We need the] head of law enforcement to be nonpartisan and focused on serving all citizens equally through improvements to the department."

Knezovich is a Republican, like all of the commissioners and Condon (who holds a nonpartisan position and has repeatedly said he won't engage in party politics when making decisions as mayor). 

It's not yet clear if partisanship will play a part in the decision to regionalize law enforcement. 

Knezovich suggested it wouldn't. Asked for his thoughts on the sheriff's job being a partisan position, he said, "Quite frankly, most sheriffs would want that changed. The last time sheriffs brought this up internally [about four years ago], 36 of 39 sheriffs voted to change it."

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