Yakima will not officially join the Yakima County-defined regional crime scene, but the sharing of intelligence between the agencies will still take place, law enforcement officials said.
A division of the Yakima City Council decided not to participate in the regional effort on Tuesday, taking the decision to withdraw the agreement and a revised agreement with the Yakima Valley Council of Governments to participate in the one-year effort.
The district gave $2.8 million to YVCOG this year to operate a district lab outside the station in the Zillah. Supporters say the effort will establish a single hub for intelligence, evidence and weapons and improve information sharing among the 13 law enforcement agencies.
The regional lab will be managed by the YVCOG, but overseen by a board of police officers.
Interview in Yakima
The Yakima City Council was split 4-3 on Tuesday’s vote, with Mayor Janice Deccio, Vice Mayor Soneya Lund and council members Danny Herrera and Eliana Macias voting against and council members Matt Brown, Patricia Byers and Holly Cousens voting in favor of the city’s participation. .
Deccio and Lund agreed with city staff’s findings that the services the city would gain by joining the lab — crime mapping software, forensics and ballistics tests — would duplicate services already provided by the city.
Brown, Byers and Cousens said the revisions, and the associated cost of $999,000 for the city’s first year of participation in the program, would be important for the information sharing and intelligence assistance it would provide.
“The work side of things for me is – I don’t see a benefit to our department because we already have all of this,” Brown said at the meeting. “On the intelligence side, though, I’d argue that more intelligence is always better, period.”
Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray, who spoke against Yakima’s participation in the effort, said more information would help the city, but said the negotiations are already happening and are not a paid project.
City Manager Bob Harrison said Wednesday that the council’s decision not to enter the lab was based on recommendations from city staff.
“The council made a decision last night not to participate fully, but it only means that we will continue to work with them. It’s just that we won’t be a full member,” said Harrison.
Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell, chairman of the county board of supervisors, said the council’s vote was disappointing but not surprising.
“We are very disappointed that Chief Murray did not want to participate, but maybe when the lab’s success becomes clear he will change his mind, or a change in leadership will bring Yakima into the fold,” Udell said in an email Wednesday.
Murray said the services provided by the lab help organizations in the region that do not have the funds to support similar programs. He said that he hopes that these activities will be successful so that these departments can work together.
Although Yakima will not participate in the proposed regional crime lab for Yakima County, law enforcement officials have expressed a willingness to share information.
Udell said in an email Wednesday that he wasn’t sure if the Yakima Police Department would want to work with the regional lab. He said that his department is currently not receiving information from YPD investigators.
“Given the lack of information flow, will they participate at all? Participation would be a cultural change in that for other local organizations,” he said in an email.
Udell went on to say that if Yakima wants to share information, “we will.”
He said the Lab’s district committee will determine the policy on any information that flows after the lab starts working.
Murray maintains that the city of Yakima already shares intelligence with agencies throughout the county, including through regular meetings with the local police department and through crime mapping software.
Murray said he wants to continue sharing intelligence between agencies, and encouraged the Sheriff’s Office to get its own investigators for the help they provide.
“We’re doing it, and we’re going to do it and we want to do it,” he said Wednesday. “Nothing about us not participating changes the amount of sharing and intel work that can be done.”
The Yakima branch has a budget for three investigators. Two of the positions have been filled.
Murray said the vacant position was posted twice and they received final candidates twice, but no payment was made at any time. He said that the seat will be installed again at the beginning of the year.
“It is difficult to find skilled people in many positions. “High positions in the country are difficult,” he said. “We’re going to move on, and I think we’re going to get somebody eventually and it’s going to be great. But we have two, and they’re doing a good job. They’re coming out.”
Udell said Yakima’s decision not to participate in the regional crime division that Yakima County requested will not affect the overall budget for the effort for about three years.
“The plan was to hire four analysts, but that can be reduced to three again to get the money we have. Without Yakima, the demand for a fourth would not exist,” Udell said in an email.
The group will deal with the long-term loss of Yakima’s share by restructuring employee programs and seeking federal and state funding, he said. As the most populous department in the region, the city of Yakima would have had the lion’s share of the lab’s revenue.
“The project has attracted a lot of attention from politicians and the government,” he said. “Regional efforts are encouraged, and in regions like ours with major challenges, that’s the only way to succeed.”