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Cornelius mulls sheriffs office service merger


County would need to approve deal; officials want community input

Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake and interim Police Chief Ken Summers know the Cornelius Police Department is facing some serious challenges, and they aren't turning a blind eye to the concerns.

In April, Drake and Summers requested help from the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police Administrative Resource Program. In an April 17 letter to Sherwood Police Chief Jeff Groth, who has long been involved with the program, Summers made clear he doesn't take the issues lightly.

"The Cornelius Police Department is undergoing a period of great upheaval and change,” Summers wrote, and has been working "for several months to rectify numerous deficiencies we have discovered within the organization.”

Against this backdrop, Mayor Jef Dalin and members of the Cornelius City Council announced May 6 that the city is considering setting up a contractual arrangement with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to provide the city's law enforcement services.

“This is a starting point,” said Drake. “We want to see if possibly contracting with the county for law enforcement services going forward might work for the city of Cornelius. The Sheriff’s Office would bring many advantages.”

Dalin said the discussion was the equivalent of a “first date.”

“We’re nowhere near the proposal point yet,” he said. “We are exploring ideas and starting a dialogue about what the limitations are and what the mutual benefits are.”

Dalin said he wants to bring community members into the discussion at the beginning, and that’s why the idea was brought up in a public forum.

“We’ll get, hopefully, a ton of feedback,” Dalin said. “That’s good. Let’s get this discussion going.”

Drake said he met with Cornelius officers and staff as well as the citizens’ police advisory board Monday morning so they would not be caught by surprise.

Monday evening, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett came to the council meeting to discuss the concept as the two entities launched a process designed to decide whether a partnership might be good for all concerned.

Garrett said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss the concept.

“This is a conversation worth having for two reasons,” he said. “Everyone here cares deeply about Cornelius. We each have strengths that a closer partnership could maximize. You have local officers with familiarity with the community, and that’s an asset. We have depth of bench and can offer advantages with recruiting, training, equipment, policy and accountability.”

Garrett also noted there would be a direct public benefit to having officers with the Cornelius Police Department work directly with WCSO deputies.

“We do our best work when we work closer together,” Garrett explained. “That’s a big advantage. The more you train together and brief together, (you) know how the other is going to work. That adds value and safety, and reduces stress. It’s an advantage for both groups.”

Garrett said a lot of work would be required before it could be determined if a consolidation would achieve the desired objectives. “If we seriously take this step, it has to add public value and be sustainable over the long term,” he said.

According to Garrett, another possible hurdle would be gaining approval from the Washington County Board of Commissioners, which would need to sign off on any contract between the two entities.

“About 11 years ago, the county set up a policy on community policing. The county has to approve the contract before it can become effective,” Garrett said.

However, Dalin said he had mentioned the concept to commission chairman Andy Duyck and had no reason to believe the county would reject a partnership.

“Commissioner Duyck didn’t have any roadblock concerns,” Dalin said. “He is open to having it come to the board.”

Garrett noted that there are many operational and financial issues to consider before moving forward, and he suggested setting up a working group of representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, the city of Cornelius and Washington County.

Drake said he believes it's in the city’s interest to determine relatively quickly whether a contract would even be feasible.

“We need to craft a work plan by summer or early fall for a ‘go/no go’ decision,” Drake said. “We need to know the basic costs and framework, and pull together those answers sooner rather than later.”