Clark County considers new public safety agreement with ilani

Clark County Council on Wednesday reviewed a revised contract proposed by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for county public safety services in Ilani. The tribe wants to reduce the amount it pays because the county’s need for public safety services has decreased since the casino opened.

According to Clark County Deputy Chief Civil Attorney Leslie Lopez, the 2017 contract required the tribe to pay $400,000 a year, with a 2% annual increase, to the county for public safety services.

“At that time, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe didn’t have much of a public security force in terms of officers. Since then, they’ve greatly increased the number of officers they have,” Lopez told the council.

With the contract due for renewal in December, Lopez said, county staff began reviewing the law enforcement, prosecution, indigent advocacy, jail, court and medical examiner services provided to the tribe. and if any of these levels had changed.

Lopez said what they found was that the level of services provided dropped in 2022.

For example, in 2019, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office was the first responder or was deployed as a backup for 351 calls from the Cowlitz Indian Reservation. This number increased to 552 in 2020 and 546 in 2021.

But from Jan. 1 to July 31, 2022 — after the tribe stepped up hiring of its public safety personnel — the sheriff’s office was the first responder for four calls and deployed as backup for four additional calls.

“It’s directly related to the tribe building its own police force,” Lopez said.

Fewer calls to answer means fewer arrests, jail bookings and cases to pursue.

In 2019, the prosecutor’s office had 31 cases from the Cowlitz Indian Reservation, Lopez said. This fell to 17 cases in 2020 and 12 in 2021.

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe offered a revised contract of $120,000 a year for two years to bridge the gap between services provided by the county and the tribe’s public safety personnel.

Lopez noted that the casino’s new hotel is expected to open in April and could mean more calls for the sheriff’s office. Lopez said the staff would continue to monitor the services provided and any changes could be renegotiated before the next contract renewal.

Lopez will bring a negotiated contract back to the board for approval in the coming weeks, although a specific date has yet to be set.