Eatonville residents rally for cops
Eatonville residents sent their town leaders a message Monday night: Don’t get rid of the Police Department.
Roughly 200 people gathered in the community center to talk about the possibility of dissolving the decades-old Police Department and contracting with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Residents spoke for more than an hour, most imploring leaders to find other ways to save money.
“We’ve been trusting our lives to these officers for how many years? To think that we would take these people who have a vested interest in our community and give them a pink slip – shame on us for thinking that,” resident Alan Esselbach said.
“Let’s find a way, whether it’s an increase of taxes or some other creative financing, to move the money so we can afford to keep this investment,” he added.
Mayor Ray Harper made public last week that he was talking with sheriff’s officials about possibly taking over law enforcement services in the Mount Rainier foothills town. He said budget problems were to blame. The town’s $1.9 million general operating fund, which pays for the police and fire departments, is running at a deficit, and the council has been resistant to raise taxes, Harper said.
The council will make the final decision. A sheriff’s contract needs members’ stamp of approval and could come within a month.
Council members asked questions about the proposed contract Monday, but they didn’t make a decision.
During the session, Sheriff’s Department officials talked about what they would provide to the town of 2,800 residents. The services would include two full-time deputies, plus some extra patrols, around-the-clock 911 emergency response, dispatch and jail services.
The town would pay about $393,000 annually, based on 2012 rates. That’s about $223,000 less than the Police Department’s budget for this year.
The Eatonville Police Department has five full-time officers, including the chief, and two reserve officers. Sheriff’s officials said they’d likely hire all of the town’s officers, provided they pass a background check.
The talk of disbanding the police department comes at a time when the force has taken some heat for an increase in traffic stops.
Some residents and merchants say officers have pulled drivers over for relatively minor violations so frequently in recent months that people are afraid to go out on the roads and are staying away from local businesses. The News Tribune wrote about the controversy last week.
Harper has said his proposed law-enforcement switch is about money, not those complaints.
Residents on Monday largely expressed support for the police force. Some said they’re willing to pay higher taxes.
“The bottom line is, we need the police,” said resident David Smith.