Yakima City Council members at a study session Tuesday expressed concerns about costs, duplicative services and accountability of a regional crime center plan proposed by the Yakima Valley Council of Governments.
The program proposed by YVCOG would be a regional resource with two public safety analysts and technology to compare ballistics and firearms evidence across jurisdictions. It would be run by YVCOG with direction from city and county law enforcement. The agency set a deadline of April 29 for jurisdictions to voice their intent to participate.
The Yakima City Council did not take any action Tuesday.
Assistant Mayor Soneya Lund said the city already has some of the services included in the plan. She said she supports buying the updated software and technology, like computer forensics technology GrayKey, and sharing that among the jurisdictions. But hiring analysts and other aspects of the plan are duplicative, she said.
Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray said he recommends jurisdictions in Yakima County purchase the ballistics technology, NIBIN, collectively. It costs $195,000, he said.
“Sharing equipment and software I think would be phenomenal,” Murray said. “Having training if we all are helping pay for everybody to get trained to use it, I think that’s smart.”
He said the city needs to be cautious about using city resources to investigate or analyze activity in other places.
Council member Matt Brown said the services are great, but should be provided by the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office.
“I just have concerns with putting these services outside of any one governing body, and not underneath the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “All of these services sound like a fantastic thing.”
Brown also said some of the services are duplicative with what is currently being done at the Yakima Police Department.
Sheriff Bob Udell said housing the program under the Sheriff’s Office is still an option, but it wouldn’t work immediately. The office doesn’t have the space or staff to manage a regional crime center right now, he said.
“The way I look at it right now, (YVCOG is) just providing the framework, the ability to get this together,” Udell said. “Then it’s going to be on myself, it’s gonna be on Chief (Matt) Murray to make sure that these things work effectively.”
He said there could be space down the road once the Sheriff’s Office has a new building.
Council member Patricia Byers also said she supports having the center run under the purview of the Sheriff’s Office.
“I am in favor of a centralized crime system. How that happens, there’s still a lot more conversation to be had,” Byers said.
Three people who spoke during public comment at the meeting, one from the city of Yakima and two from the county, voiced concerns about accountability and the possibility of blurred jurisdictional lines if the crime resource center is formed under YVCOG.
But Yakima resident Ron Anderson, also a Yakima County commissioner, said he personally supports the creation of a crime center that is independent of all jurisdictions.
“At least what I’ve been told is that it’s going to operate as an independent facility, and hopefully independent employees to serve all of the jurisdictions of the county, you know, the small ones like Harrah, up to Yakima, the city of Yakima,” Anderson said during public comment.
He said there have been discussions about housing the crime center at the future Sheriff’s Office building. The county has been looking at a plan to move the Sheriff’s Office from leased space on South First Street to the former Pacific Avenue jail, which would be remodeled.
YVCOG Executive Director Chris Wickenhagen said questions about how the program will run and what the priorities will be will have to be answered by the body’s board, which is made up of one representative from each jurisdiction, and law enforcement experts.
“That needs to be determined by the group. That is not our authority,” Wickenhagen said, meaning the authority of herself and regional programs manager Vicki Baker. Both spoke at the meeting.
Wickenhagen said YVCOG needs to know who wants to participate in the program before finalizing the details.
When the agency notified cities about the program, it said governments had to decide whether to participate by April 29. Wickenhagen said after the meeting that the deadline was set to understand which partners would like to move forward in the process.
“My board will decide if we’ll stick with that April 29 date, or if we’re going to postpone,” she said.