Ridgefield discusses contract for policing services for La Center


Discussions on whether Ridgefield will take over policing services for its neighbor La Center are building momentum.

During a study session ahead of its May 25 meeting, the Ridgefield City Council heard from consultants about a study focused on contracting with La Center for police services. The study covered existing conditions for law enforcement in both cities and provided scenarios on what a contract would look like for staffing and costs.

Though La Center has a department featuring 10 people budgeted, it dwindled down to only a chief and one officer last year, the study stated. The city currently receives support from outside agencies for calls to police.

Berk Consulting, the firm responsible for the study, spoke with La Center Interim Police Chief Bob Richardson and former mayor Greg Thornton, half a dozen members of the Ridgefield Police Department as well as partner agencies like the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Battle Ground Municipal Court, Berk Principal Brian Murphy said. Alongside interviews, the firm also did ride-alongs with Ridgefield officers.

Berk also looked at existing interlocal agreements for police services between cities or between cities and counties, Murphy said. Some of those agreements were developed by Virginia Gleason, a consultant with extensive experience in police contracting who was present for the study session.

The study was conducted with the understanding that officers working in La Center would maintain Ridgefield oversight, branding and communications, Murphy said. Service levels would be uniform in both Ridgefield and La Center.

From 2024 to 2028, the contract could range from about $8.3 million to $8.7 million, compared to a budget projection for the same timeframe of $9.3 million, according to the study. Murphy said the contract could be beneficial because administration and support staff would be shared among the cities’ jurisdictions, instead of duplicating those resources in each city. He added uniform service levels in the cities would positively impact both of them.

“Ridgefield certainly benefits from enhanced policing in La Center, because crime is not bound by individual city limits,” Murphy said.

Staffing issues

Ridgefield Police Chief Cathy Doriot said the department usually has a sergeant and an officer staffed around the clock. With the addition of La Center, a third around-the-clock officer would be added.

Being able to recruit the needed staff to maintain service levels across the existing and

new area was the chief concern about contracting with La Center for police services. Berk determined a La Center contract would require six additional patrol officers for Ridgefield so they could provide around-the-clock service at the same level as the department currently provides in its jurisdiction, Murphy said. Other additions included two records and administrative support positions and an additional detective position.

That division of staffing was in part based on past activity. In 2022, Ridgefield had close to 7,900 calls for service, while La Center had about 1,300, according to the study.

Gleason said current call volumes for La Center may be artificially low given the current staffing of its police department. Residents may know they are not able to get a rapid response for low-level offenses.

“Once they realize Ridgefield will respond and provide services, there could be some increase in requests for services,” Gleason said.

Ridgefield Councilor Ron Onslow questioned how feasible it would be to get new staff hired.

“It seems that we are always short, not only in police, but in almost every avenue that we have in the city, because of our growth,” Onslow said. “Adding nine (positions), I wonder how fast can that happen?”

Doriot said the Ridgefield Police Department has done well with filling vacancies. Officers are lined up for the department’s four currently open positions, with two set to start by August.

If a contract begins in the middle of this year, additional officers are projected to be hired in pairs, based on a timeline from Berk. The Ridgefield Police Department would hit the goal of six additional officers in April 2027, about two-thirds of the way through the first contract, based on the timeline.

Gleason said the planned establishment of regional police academies, including in Clark County, could have a positive impact on the timeline. She added Ridgefield had success with hiring officers laterally, which has decreased the time it takes to get officers on the street.

“There’s a number of things going that are going to help with your recruitment efforts, both entry level and lateral officers, and so it could be a little bit faster than this,” Gleason said.

While additional officers are coming on board, covering La Center would require the use of overtime for existing officers. Murphy said La Center would pay for those costs through the contract, which is assumed in Berk’s financial model, Murphy said.

Murphy noted the primary focus of Berk’s study was on the impacts of additional policing in La Center. He acknowledged developments like Costco, which is planned near the Interstate 5 interchange, will have its own impacts on the Ridgefield Police Department, but those impacts will come regardless of if the city contracts with La Center.

“I think it’s an important point that there are those multiple layers,” Murphy said.

Council wants to
hear from citizens

Gleason said a contract could prevent a “slow decline” for police services in La Center that may occur with regional growth, mentioning the development at the Cowlitz Indian Tribe reservation.

“Any time that a city is seen as sort of a vacuum for police services, bad things eventually start to happen because people realize they don’t have the resources to provide those services,” Gleason said.

A contract would also ensure regularity of service and would provide more promotional opportunities for staff in a bigger department.

Following Berk’s update, the Ridgefield City Council came to a consensus to continue the conversation about a contract with La Center. Several councilors also decided to undertake a community survey to get feedback from residents of Ridgefield on whether a contract is made.

Ridgefield Mayor Pro-tem Rob Aichele said the contract decision is one of the most important decisions he has to make in the nearly four years he’s been on the council.

“I was a ‘no’ coming in here,” Aichele said. 

He was in favor of conducting a community survey before meeting with La Center councilors. Fellow Ridgefield councilor Lee Wells agreed the council needs to hear from citizens before they make a decision.

“We’re elected by the community of Ridgefield and so we need to hear from our constituents what they wish us to do on their behalf,” Wells said.