City spared proposed King County law enforcement staffing cuts

July 3, 2008

By Jim Feehan

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A $68 million budget shortfall in King County in 2009 should have little effect on law enforcement in Newcastle, Police Chief Melinda Irvine said.

Staffing in the city’s department won’t change, she said.

In 1999, Newcastle contracted with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services. The Newcastle Police Department has six officers and a police chief assigned to the city on a full-time basis. The officers wear navy blue uniforms (as opposed to county deputies, who wear brown uniforms) and drive city-marked patrol cars. Officers are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The city also draws upon the Sheriff’s Office for additional patrol assistance, K-9 service, bomb disposal, major accident response and reconstruction, specialized detective investigations and SWAT.

The Sheriff’s Office must cut $7.5 million on top of a $2.3 million cut this year, for a total loss equivalent to almost 100 deputies, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr said at a news conference last month.

While county deputies will be able to investigate property crimes inside the cities it contracts services for, people in unincorporated areas will not get those services, she said. Response times would remain at current levels as long as possible, she said.

Belt-tightening might also include closing the agency’s storefront offices in communities. The nearest storefront to Newcastle is the Four Creeks substation next to Castle Ice Arena in the Renton Highlands.

In addition, Rahr said the agency is considering closing the “cold case” unit that investigates unsolved crimes.

In preliminary budget planning, all criminal justice agencies have been asked to make 8.6-percent, across-the-board cuts. Those agencies accounted for about 70 percent of the $648 million general fund spending in 2008.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said he is considering having his staff no longer prosecute property crimes under $10,000, shifting those cases to municipal and district courts. Currently, all cases over $500 are classified as felonies and tried in Superior Court. The County Council will make final budget decisions later this year.

“The proposed cuts will not make one iota of difference to the cities that contract with the county for police services,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart.

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