As a result of a move to cut costs, most of the people Tacoma police arrest soon will have a new destination: The City of Fife.
Beginning early next year, Tacoma police will use Fife’s jail for booking its misdemeanor offenders instead of taking all city arrestees to the Pierce County Jail.
And if Fife can’t accommodate those offenders in its 36-bed municipal lock-up, that city will find room in one of the eight other jails it now contracts with for additional jail capacity.
“Basically, we’re just going to book all of our misdemeanor defendants into the Fife Jail, and from there, they decide where to put them,” Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said. “All of our felony arrests will still go to the Pierce County Jail.”
When it comes to jail costs, Tacoma is only responsible for covering expenses for the misdemeanor defendants it books. Costs for locking up defendants facing felony charges fall to the state and county.
Tacoma’s City Council on Tuesday approved the new 10-year inter-local agreement with the City of Fife for its jail services. The new agreement kicks in Jan. 1 – a day after the city’s exclusive jail services contract with Pierce County expires. Tacoma’s jail contract with the county will continue through 2016, but on a non-exclusive basis.
“We’ll still be working with the county,” Police Chief Don Ramsdell said Tuesday. “We just don’t want an exclusive contract at this point. This gives us some options.”
As part of the strategy to reduce the city’s jail costs, the council also approved a separate two-year agreement that would allow eligible low-risk Tacoma offenders to use Fife’s electronic home monitoring system. City officials say Fife’s system is far more sophisticated and cost-effective than those offered by the county through private vendors.
Under Fife’s program, Tacoma municipal judges likely will be able to put more inmates into at-home monitoring programs than they currently do, Ramsdell said.
Both deals with Fife are expected to save the city a lot of money.
“Time will tell just how much it saves us,” Ramsdell said. “But we think it will be significant.”
The city’s savings will also come at the county’s expense. Tacoma is now the Pierce County Jail’s biggest customer.
About $10 million of the jail’s $51 million budget for this year comes from outside of the county’s general fund. Of that $10 million, Tacoma pays $6 million.
Pierce County Undersheriff Eileen Bisson said Tuesday that it’s too soon to know how much Tacoma’s new deal with Fife will hurt county jail revenues.
“Certainly, I’m disappointed,” she said.
But Bisson added she understands the city’s decision amid harsh budget realities. If put in the same position, she said: “I would be looking at the same thing.”
By using Fife’s jail, Tacoma expects to cut at least 30 percent – and likely far more – from the $518,136 it paid Pierce County on average each month this year to book and incarcerate about 400 misdemeanor arrestees.
Part of that cost came from the county’s $212 book-in fee for each defendant Tacoma booked into the jail. Pierce County also charges an $85 daily rate for each defendant, and an $84 escort fee for each city prisoner it escorts to court.
By comparison, Fife will charge the city only $20 for each booking and a $65 daily rate per prisoner. Since Fife does all of its misdemeanor arraignments by closed circuit video monitors, there are no escort fees. Fife instead charges $65 per defendant for video arraignment.
“Right off the bat, we have quite a reduction in costs,” Cool said. “We go from an average of $600 per booking at the Pierce County Jail to $150 per booking in Fife.”
Fife Police Chief Brad Blackburn said Tuesday his city would act as a kind of broker for inmates that Tacoma sends to its 36-bed jail. Fife already holds 23 agreements with other local jurisdictions to provide jail services, he added.
If its own jail couldn’t accommodate them, Fife would move Tacoma inmates to other facilities as needed, such as sending those with yearlong sentences to state prisons, he said.
While Fife’s jail does not house female inmates, it would find a jail that did.
“We utilize eight other facilities throughout the state,” Blackburn said. Those include jails in Puyallup, Wapato, Nisqually, Auburn and a South King County regional facility in Kent, he said.
Tacoma police officials will review how the new agreements with Fife are working in six months, Ramsdell said. Tacoma police union officials said Tuesday they support the move.