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Public Safety

Below are some frequently asked questions and other selected inquiries that MRSC has received related to local government public safety issues. Click on any question to see its answer.

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Are we required to place an RFP or RFQ for misdemeanor prosecution services?
Reviewed: 07/19

Contracts for legal services are “personal service contracts.” There are no RCWs that require local government agencies to follow a formal RFP/RFQ process for personal service contracts.

That said, many jurisdictions have adopted their own policies and procedures which should be followed. MRSC recommends a formal process be followed above a certain dollar amount. Here is a link to our topic page on Personal Service Contracts that you may find helpful.

So while there is no RCW requirement, we recommend that you follow your organization’s adopted contracting/purchasing policies. We also suggest that you consider an RFP/RFQ process even if you are not required to do so under your policies and procedures to the extent doing so will get you the best possible contract.

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Request for sample code provisions regarding declarations of emergencies in council-manager cities.
Reviewed: 05/19

Please see the following sample code provisions from four council-manager cities:

  • Bainbridge Island Municipal Code, Ch. 2.44, Emergency Management
  • Burien Municipal Code, Ch. 2.75, Emergency Management
  • Normandy Park Municipal Code, Ch. 2.36, Emergency Management
  • Toppenish Municipal Code, Ch. 2.95, Emergency Powers of Mayor, City Council and City Manager

A custom code search of “’city manager’ emergency declare” turns up many more sample code provisions that include procedures for declaring emergencies in council-manager cities for your review. While many of these code provisions have the city manager, acting as the “executive head” of the city, initiating the declaration of an emergency, there are a variety of other approaches that include potential action by the mayor or the city council (if they are in session or to ratify action by the city manager). I am not aware of any attempts to determine what might be considered “best practices” for declaring an emergency in council-manager cities.

You may also be interested in the following related resources:

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Are there any state mandated requirements for the position of police chief in a city?
Reviewed: 01/16

Yes, state law provides a list of eligibility requirements that apply to the position of police chief in all cities with a population of more than 1,000 in RCW 35.21.333:

(1) A person seeking appointment to the office of chief of police or marshal, of a city or town, including a code city, with a population in excess of one thousand, is ineligible unless that person:
(a) Is a citizen of the United States of America;
(b) Has obtained a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate as provided in RCW 8B.50.536;
(c) Has not been convicted under the laws of this state, another state, or the United States of a felony;
(d) Has not been convicted of a gross misdemeanor or any crime involving moral turpitude within five years of the date of application;
(e) Has received at least a general discharge under honorable conditions from any branch of the armed services for any military service if the person was in the military service;
(f) Has completed at least two years of regular, uninterrupted, full-time commissioned law enforcement employment involving enforcement responsibilities with a government law enforcement agency; and
(g) The person has been certified as a regular and commissioned enforcement officer through compliance with this state's basic training requirement or equivalency.

Also, RCW 35.21.334 provides that no city may appoint a person to be chief of police until the agency had conducted a thorough background investigation of the candidate.

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Request for sample ordinances that ban specific breeds of dogs.
Reviewed: 01/14

Some cities have completely banned certain breeds of dogs. Cities that have banned pit bulls, include Yakima, Selah, Algona and Enumclaw. See, for example, Ch. 6.18, "Pit Bull Dogs," Yakima Municipal Code.

Bellevue (see Ch. 8.08, Bellevue Municipal Code) prohibits wolves and coyote hybrids, with some exceptions. Some jurisdictions also regulate wolf hybrids under their dangerous dog regulations (including Blaine and SeaTac).

In adopting local ordinances based upon state laws regulating dangerous or potentially dangerous dogs (see Ch. 16.08 RCW), some cities have modified the definition of "potentially dangerous dog" and/or "dangerous dog" to include references to specific breeds such as pit bull terriers. See, for example:

  • Ch. 8.05, Kirkland Municipal Code - Dangerous Dogs - (defines dangerous dogs to include "American Pit Bull Terrier" or "Staffordshire Bull Terrier" or "American Staffordshire Terrier" breed of dog)
  • Auburn Ordinance No. 5996 (includes pit bull terriers and other breeds as "potentially dangerous dogs.")

Other cities that define dangerous dogs to include pit bulls include Eatonville and Pasco.

For more information on this subject, including case law references, an overview of state laws regarding dangerous and potentially dangerous dogs, and sample ordinances, see our webpage on Dangerous Dogs, Wolves, and Wolf-Hybrids, which includes information on Breed Specific Regulations.

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Request for information on procedures for granting a limited commission to an animal control officer to enforce and issue citations for violations of the town's animal control ordinance, and the form for the oath of office for this position.
Reviewed: 01/14

Various statutes authorize municipalities to give designated employment positions, other than law enforcement officers, the authority to enforce laws, such as local animal control laws, that carry civil penalties (civil infractions). For example, RCW 7.80.040, dealing with civil infractions, defines "enforcement officer" as "a person authorized to enforce the provisions of the title or ordinance in which the civil infraction is established." See also IRLJ 1.2(j), a court rule that defines "citing officer" as "a law enforcement officer or other official authorized by law to issue a notice of infraction."

So, the town may give an animal control officer a "limited commission" to issue citations for civil infractions under the town's ordinances. A "commission" is, in the sense discussed here, merely formal evidence of an appointment. There are no statutorily-required procedures for granting a limited commission. The only requirements for an animal control officer would be those established by the town for the position.

Here are a few example code provisions establishing limited commissions:

Mount Vernon Municipal Code
10.10.020(C ) . “Limited commission code enforcement officer” means that person who has been appointed by the mayor and whose work is directed by the director of development services for the purpose of administering and enforcing the provisions of this chapter, including all persons granted such authority and responsibility by contract with the city. In addition, the director of development services shall be an ex officio code enforcement officer and have like enforcement authority.


Bellevue Municipal Code

3.33.060 Appointment of deputies and other officers – Administrative structure. The chief of police may appoint, with the consent of the city manager, subject to any applicable civil service provisions, deputies and other public officers from other city departments. Such officers shall have the power of citation as may be appropriate and necessary for the proper performance of the duties of their office. Upon such appointment being made, the chief of police shall issue to the appointee a limited commission card. The appointment shall continue until the appointee is permanently terminated from city employment, but may be revoked at any time by the chief of police or the city manager.

Burlington Municipal Code

2.38.030(B) Members – Appointment and commissioning. ... [a] limited commission or deputation may be issued upon approval of the mayor and police chief to persons outside the department who have a need to have limited enforcement capabilities such as parking, parks, animal control, and arson. These limited commissions will specifically state the authority of the holder to enforce specific identified ordinances. These limited commissions shall be valid for a period of one year and shall automatically expire on December 31st of that year.

As to the form for the oath of office, no state statute sets out the exact form for this. There are several variations used, although most are similar to the one set out below:

I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Washington, and all local ordinances, and that I will faithfully and impartially perform and discharge the duties of the office of _____, according to law and the best of my ability.


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Does the city have authority to tow vehicles parked in the fire lane on school district property?
Reviewed: 01/14

In order to tow vehicles in such situations, the city needs to have an ordinance in effect which contains various provisions spelled out in RCW 46.55.240.

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May a town charge an annual fee for fire protection provided to an area outside of town that is not within a fire district?
Reviewed: 01/14

We don't think the town could charge an annual fee to nonresidents within the area that would be (or currently is being) served by the town's volunteer fire department, because that would likely be deemed an unauthorized tax under Covell v. City of Seattle, 127 Wn.2d 874 (1995), and its progeny (e.g., Lane v. City of Seattle, 164 Wn.2d 875 (2008)).

But, it seems to be well-established that a city or town may charge nonresidents more than residents for services provided. See, e.g., Des Moines Marina Ass'n v. City of Des Moines, 124 Wn. App. 282 (2004), review denied, 154 Wn.2d 1018 (2005); City of Clarkston v. Asotin County Rural Library Bd., 18 Wn. App. 869 (1977); AGO 1992 No. 31 (a library, statutorily prohibited from charging fees for residents, may charge fees for nonresidents); RCW 35.92.010 (“In classifying customers served or service furnished, the city or town governing body may in its discretion consider any or all of the following factors . . . location of the various customers within and without the city or town . . . . “). Charging a fee based on fire protection services actually provided would not be an invalid tax under Covell.

Note that RCW 35.84.040 authorizes cities and towns to provide fire protection outside their limits.

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Is a city bound to impose the same monetary penalty for traffic infractions as authorized by state law?
Reviewed: 01/14

MRSC's position is that a city or county is bound to impose the same monetary penalty for traffic infractions as set out in RCW 46.63.110(3) and IRLJ 6.2.

First, RCW 46.63.010 sets out a policy that traffic infractions shall be disposed of following a uniform and expeditious system. Then RCW 46.63.110 lists the monetary penalties for two specific violation and then directs the state supreme court to adopt by rule a schedule of monetary penalties for designated traffic infractions. The court rule is also to set out conditions under which local courts may exercise discretion in assessing fines and penalties for traffic infractions.

The state supreme court-established rule for monetary penalties for traffic infractions is IRLJ 6.2(a): "The penalty for any infraction listed in this rule may not be changed by local court rule. The court may impose on a defendant a lesser penalty in an individual case."

So there does not appear to be discretion for a city or county to adopt a different monetary penalty for traffic infractions than set out in state law. The limit set in state law is $250 unless there is an exception in the state law itself.

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May a town contract with tribal police for law enforcement services?
Reviewed: 01/14

Maybe. It would not be possible for the town to commission a tribal officer to enforce criminal laws in the city, without that officer otherwise meeting the training requirements that apply to any member of the town police force. The fact that a person is a tribal officer gives that officer no authority regarding enforcement of non-tribal laws. RCW 43.101.200(1) requires that "All law enforcement personnel, except volunteers, and reserve officers whether paid or unpaid, initially employed on or after January 1, 1978, shall engage in basic law enforcement training which complies with standards adopted by the [criminal justice training] commission pursuant to RCW 43.101.080." Persons hired as police officers have six months from the beginning of employment to commence basic law enforcement training. RCW 43.101.200(1). There is no exception to this requirement for persons who are commissioned tribal officers. However, in 2006 the Legislature adopted legislation allowing a tribal officer to be certified; RCW 43.101.157 states in part:

RCW 43.101.157 Tribal police officer certification.

(1) Tribal governments may voluntarily request certification for their police officers. Tribal governments requesting certification for their police officers must enter into a written agreement with the commission. The agreement must require the tribal law enforcement agency and its officers to comply with all of the requirements for granting, denying, and revoking certification as those requirements are applied to peace officers certified under this chapter and the rules of the commission.

(2) Officers making application for certification as tribal police officers shall meet the requirements of this chapter and the rules of the commission as those requirements are applied to certification of peace officers. Application for certification as a tribal police officer shall be accepted and processed in the same manner as those for certification of peace officers.

Thus, unless a tribal officer is certified, he or she would not be qualified to enforce state and local criminal laws, and the town would not have the authority to commission such an officer, even in a limited manner. Of course, if the tribe does certify its officers, those officers could enforce town laws pursuant to an interlocal cooperation act agreement. See RCW 39.34.020(1) and .030.

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Request for statutory authority to regulate watercraft on county waters.
Reviewed: 01/14

There is no specific statute that you can cite to for this authority over watercraft. The basic source of authority to regulate watercraft on waters within your county's jurisdiction is article 11, section 11 of the Washington Constitution, which embodies the local police power authority ("[a]ny county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws").

In State ex rel. Schillberg v. Everett Dist. Justice Court, 92 Wn.2d 106 (1979), the state supreme court upheld, based on this police power authority under the state constitution, a county ordinance prohibiting internal combustion motorboats on certain lakes in the county.

In Weden v. San Juan County, 135 Wn.2d 678 (1998), the court upheld, also based on the county's police power authority, a county ordinance prohibiting motorized personal watercraft (jet skis) in marine and lake waters within the county's jurisdiction.

So, if you were to cite anything in your ordinance or resolution regulating motorized watercraft, you should cite the county's police power authority under the state constitution.

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What is the federal law that prohibits the sale of marijuana?
Reviewed: 01/14

Marijuana is identified as a controlled substance in 21 U.S.C. § 812, Schedule I(c)(10). Under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), the following are unlawful acts:

Except as authorized by this subchapter, it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally -

(1) to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or

(2) to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.

See also: DOJ press release (10/19/09) on "Attorney General Announces Formal Medical Marijuana Guidelines."

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How long must we retain polygraphs and psychological evaluations of officers that we hire?
Reviewed: 01/14

According to the Local Government Common Records Retention Schedule (CORE), Section 4.9 PERSONNEL items in an employee's personnel file including but not limited to "Criminal history, background checks and investigations" must be retained for six years following termination of the employee and then destroyed. 

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May a city ban the carrying of weapons by certain city employees?
Reviewed: 01/14

Yes. The case Cherry v. Metro Seattle, 116 Wn.2d 794, 808 P.2d 746 (1991) held that the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (METRO) could prohibit its bus drivers from carrying weapons. Such a regulation, the court concluded was not preempted by the state firearms law. This decision would also support a city or town's efforts to regulate or prohibit an employee's possession of firearms while on the job or in the workplace.

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Do counties have the authority to establish crimes with penalties for acts that are not criminal under state law?
Reviewed: 01/14

Yes, but only misdemeanor crimes. The statutory authority is RCW 36.32.120(7), which provides that the legislative authorities of the several counties shall:

Make and enforce, by appropriate resolutions or ordinances, all such police and sanitary regulations as are not in conflict with state law, and within the unincorporated area of the county may adopt by reference Washington state statutes and recognized codes and/or compilations printed in book form relating to the construction of buildings, the installation of plumbing, the installation of electric wiring, health, or other subjects, and may adopt such codes and/or compilations or portions thereof, together with amendments thereto, or additions thereto . . . Any violation of such regulations, ordinances, codes, compilations, and/or statutes or resolutions shall constitute a misdemeanor or a civil violation subject to a monetary penalty.

In AGO 1982 No. 9, the attorney general’s office concluded that this language meant that counties were limited to establishing misdemeanor crimes: "counties may not establish, or create, a gross misdemeanor since, by virtue of RCW 36.32.120(7), any violation of a county criminal ordinance is an ordinary misdemeanor only."

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What rules apply to stopping at non-operating traffic signals?
Reviewed: 12/13

RCW 46.61.183 provides:

Nonfunctioning signal lights. Except when directed to proceed by a flagger, police officer, or fire fighter, the driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection controlled by a traffic control signal that is temporarily without power on all approaches or is not displaying any green, red, or yellow indication to the approach the vehicle is on, shall consider the intersection to be an all-way stop. After stopping, the driver shall yield the right of way in accordance with RCW 46.61.180(1) and 46.61.185.

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Is it a violation of a state traffic law for a car to pull a sled behind it on a public street?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes. RCW 46.61.765 provides that no person who is riding upon a bicycle, roller skates, sled or other toy vehicle may attach himself or the toy vehicle to any vehicle upon a roadway. It is a traffic infraction to do so. This provision is a part of the Washington Model Traffic Ordinance (MTO) and so any city or town that has adopted the MTO may enforce this provision by citing to a local ordinance.

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When is a school zone speed limit in effect?
Reviewed: 12/13

RCW 46.61.440 defines the speed limit zone controlled by a school speed limit sign to be 300 feet in either direction from a marked crosswalk. The school or playground speed zone may extend three hundred feet from the border of the school or playground property; however, the speed zone may only include area consistent with active school or playground use.

WAC 468-95-060 declares the "When Children Are Present" speed limit to be in effect when:


(1) School children are occupying or walking within the marked crosswalk.
(2) School children are waiting at the curb or on the shoulder of the roadway and are about to cross the roadway by way of the marked crosswalk.
(3) School children are present or walking along the roadway, either on the adjacent sidewalk or, in the absence of sidewalks, on the shoulder within the posted school speed limit zone which extends 300 feet in either direction from the marked crosswalk.

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Is there a statute which deals with doubling traffic fines for speeding violations committed in construction zones?
Reviewed: 12/13

RCW 46.61.527 provides for double fines when speeding offenses occur in construction zones.

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What training is required of police officers after completion of basic law enforcement training?
Reviewed: 12/13

There is no statutory or regulatory requirement of any additional training beyond the basic training curriculum established by the Criminal Justice Training Commission. However, if the police department wishes to be accredited by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), one of the WASPC standards is that each sworn officer must "successfully complete an annual inservice training program that includes materials on Federal and Washington State Court cases, legal updates, and as required by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, of at least 24 hours."

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Do police from other jurisdictions who are asked to help with special events in the city have authority to issue citations for violation of city ordinances?
Reviewed: 12/13

The Washington Mutual Aid Peace Officers Powers Act, provides authority for the cities to contract with individual police officers from other jurisdictions to enforce city ordinances. RCW 10.93.070 authorizes a general authority Washington "peace officer" to enforce traffic or criminal laws outside of their own jurisdiction in limited circumstances including:


Written consent of the sheriff or chief of police in whose primary territorial jurisdiction the exercise of the powers occurs; . . .or, in response to the request of a peace officer with enforcement authority.

Consequently, as long as the police chief issued a request for assistance, the police officers all have authority to issue citations for violation of local ordinances.

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Is it legal for a police department to impose a quota on traffic tickets per shift?
Reviewed: 12/13

There is no authority in this state for the conclusion that such quotas are illegal. This is not an issue that has been addressed by our appellate courts. It would seem that as long as each traffic citation issued is justified, the fact that some citations may have been motivated by a quota would not undermine the validity of the citations. There have been police departments in this and other states that have used and may still use such quotas. In any event, quotas may be controversial, but this a political issue and apparently not a legal one. If your police department is unionized, quotas may be considered a working condition that would need to be bargained. This was alleged in a Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) case, but the complaint in that case was dismissed as being untimely and the commission did not address the issue.

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Do most traffic regulations apply on private streets?
Reviewed: 12/13

No. RCW 46.61.005 provides: "The provisions of this chapter relating to the operation of vehicles refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles upon highways except: (1) Where a different place is specifically referred to in a given section. (2) The provisions of RCW 46.52.010 through 46.52.090, RCW 46.61.500 through RCW 46.61.525, and RCW 46.61.5249 shall apply upon highways and elsewhere throughout the state."

RCW 46.04.197 defines highway as: "Highway means the entire width between the boundary lines of every way publicly maintained when any part thereof is open to use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel." So most of the traffic laws only apply to highways in the state, and highway is defined as every way that is publicly maintained. A private road is not publicly maintained and so the traffic laws do not apply. There are some exceptions, such as for DUI laws in RCW 46.61.500 through 46.61.525.

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How may a city spend criminal justice funds?
Reviewed: 12/13

The funds received from applying to the Department of Commerce must be spent for the programs for which the city got the money. All other criminal justice funds must be spent for "criminal justice purposes." "Criminal justice purposes" are "those activities that substantially assist the criminal justice system, which may include circumstances where the ancillary benefit to the civil justice system occurs, and which includes domestic violence services such as those provided by domestic violence programs, community advocates, and legal advocates..." RCW 82.14.320(6) and RCW 82.14.330. 

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How can a small city that contracts for police services use its criminal justice revenues?
Reviewed: 12/13

The State Auditor's Office realizes that small cities might have some difficulty finding uses for these funds, and it tries to be liberal in its interpretation of the law.  A complication is that criminal justice funds received under RCW 82.14.320 and .330 may not supplant other revenues.  Therefore a city should probably first use these funds to pay the difference between the cost of the contract in the current year and the cost in 1989 (the base year for measuring supplanting.)  To use the funds in this way would not be supplanting, and it frees up general fund money for other purposes.  Other uses might include contracting with the county for a DARE program in the city schools or contributing money to the county for the purchase of capital equipment.

Monies received from the criminal justice sales tax under RCW 82.14.340 is no longer subject to the non-supplanting requirements.  Ch. 127, Laws of 2010.

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Can a small city spend criminal justice funds on equipment such as a camera or tape recorder that assists officers in law enforcement?
Reviewed: 12/13

In a small city, both the time of the officers and their equipment are used for both criminal and civil purposes, and the city would have a difficult time documenting exactly how many hours are spent on each. The State Auditor's Office recognizes this difference between small and large cities. However, if criminal justice funds are being used for such equipment, an effort should be made to ensure that the equipment is used primarily for criminal justice purposes.

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Can criminal justice revenues be used for increased police salaries and benefits?
Reviewed: 12/13

Can criminal justice revenues be used for increased police salaries and benefits?

New police officers can be hired, salaries can be increased and overtime can be paid as long as the total budget for criminal justice is greater than the budget in 1989 by at least the amount of the new salaries and benefits and/or overtime expenditures.

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Can criminal justice revenues be used to build an addition to city hall for the police department?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes, if the funds come from the criminal justice sales tax under RCW 83.14.340. 

If, however, the funding comes from criminal justice revenues under RCW 82.14.320 or .330, one has to be concerned about supplanting.  As long as the total amount of space occupied by city staff is increased by the amount of the addition, these funds can be used.   If the additional space causes the city to surplus other space, then the answer is "no." In the latter case, at least some of the amount spent would substitute for other spending.

Note that ch. 127, Laws of 2010, removed the supplanting language for the criminal justice sales tax under RCW 82.14.340, but not for the other statutes.

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Can municipal court revenue be used to fund the police department?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes. In fact, RCW 3.50.100(1) provides that the city's or town's portion of municipal court revenue from fees, costs, fines and forfeitures goes to the city or town’s general fund, or to any other fund designated by the city or town. (Subsections (2) and (5) of that statute provide, however, that part of the court revenues and interest accrued on fines goes to the state; subsection (5) also provides that 25 percent of the interest on fines and forfeitures must be used by the city or town for "local courts.")

The city or town council can thus designate that court revenue of a certain amount is to be used for funding the police department. It should be noted that RCW 3.50.030 provides that all fines imposed by a traffic violations bureau also go to the city or town general fund.

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Do the statutes require cities to reimburse counties for criminal justice costs?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes. Ch. 39.34.180 RCW states that every city or town is responsible for the costs associated with prosecution, adjudication, sentencing and incarceration of persons charged with committing misdemeanors within their jurisdiction. The law sets out the principles which must be followed when negotiating with counties for sharing criminal justice responsibilities and costs. Binding arbitration can be required by either a city or a county when no agreement can be reached.

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May the city require that prisoners being held for misdemeanor offenses work in community service or a day work crew?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes, there are several statutes that authorize this. RCW 9.92.130 provides that city jail prisoners who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a city jail may be compelled to perform day labor on city streets, public buildings, or grounds of the city. Also, RCW 70.48.210(3) provides that a city or county may establish a work release program for prisoners in the program. A person sentenced to a city o county jail is eligible for the program. There are some conditions in the program in the statute.

Also, some related statutes are RCW 51.12.045, which provides that inmate workers who are performing court-ordered community services are eligible for workmen's compensation. RCW 35A.21.220 provides authority for code cities to purchase liability insurance against liability for the wrongful acts of offenders for injury or damage incurred by offenders in work release programs. Finally, RCW 49.46.010(5)(k) provides that inmates are exempt from state minimum wage law.

There are a number of cities and counties that have established work release or community service programs.   See MRSC Web Page on Jail Services and Alternatives to Incarceration.

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May the city prosecute under state law when the county has refused to do so?
Reviewed: 12/13

No, the city cannot prosecute a violation of state law. By statute, the county prosecuting attorney prosecutes all criminal actions in which the state is a party. RCW 36.27.020(4). (The city attorney, on the other hand, prosecutes all actions in which the city is a party.)


A city police officer may arrest and is often allowed to directly cite a person for violating state law, but the decision whether to proceed with prosecution is given exclusively to the county prosecutor.

If for some reason a prosecutor declines to prosecute a particular criminal act, the city could in most instances adopt the state criminal statute by ordinance, and thereafter the decision to prosecute would rest with the city attorney (for all offenses committed after adoption of the city ordinance).

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May a city or town make it a criminal or civil offense under local ordinance to be drunk in public?
Reviewed: 12/13

No. Such a local enactment is prohibited by RCW 70.96A.190. However, this statute does not affect the enforceability of a local rule or ordinance against drunken driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or other similar offense.

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Can cities regulate or restrict the sale or use of laser pointers?
Reviewed: 12/13

The Washington legislature enacted Ch. 9A.49  (Ch 180 Laws of 1999) relating to the unlawful discharge of lasers.  The legislation creates the crimes of unlawful discharge of a laser in the first and second degree when a person knowingly and maliciously discharges a laser at law enforcement personnel, pilots, fire personnel, or persons operating buses. It also makes these crimes a civil infraction for juveniles who have never before committed either offense. The decision of whether or not to regulate the use of laser pointers is a local policy decision. Some cities in the United States have passed ordinances prohibiting the use of laser pointers in certain ways.

There are documented health concerns (retinal damage to young children from staring into them) and public safety concerns (the point of laser light is apparently identical to the point of light emitted by a laser gunsight). The use of laser pointers has apparently also caused nuisance problems at sporting events and concerts.

Any regulation or prohibition adopted by a city should be commensurate with the risk posed by laser pointers. A city would need extensive factual justification before attempting to restrict the sale of laser pointers.

MRSC has collected articles and sample ordinances concerning this issue.  See Web page Dangerous Activities or Conditions - Laser Pointers.

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Can RCW 70.155.080, making it a civil infraction for minors to possess cigarettes, be enforced in municipal court without a city adopting the statute by reference?
Reviewed: 12/13

RCW 70.155.080 makes the possession of cigarettes by a person under the age of eighteen a civil infraction. This statute reads:


  • (1) A person under the age of eighteen who purchases or attempts to purchase, possesses, or obtains or attempts to obtain cigarettes or tobacco products commits a class 3 civil infraction under chapter 7.80 RCW and is subject to a fine as set out in chapter 7.80 RCW or participation in up to four hours of community service, or both. The court may also require participation in a smoking cessation program. This provision does not apply if a person under the age of eighteen, with parental authorization, is participating in a controlled purchase as part of a liquor control board, law enforcement, or local health department activity.
    (2) Municipal and district courts within the state have jurisdiction for enforcement of this section.

The caller asked if, in our opinion, a city would need to adopt this statute by reference to be able to enforce it in municipal court, given the language in subsection (2).

In our opinion, a city does not need to adopt the statute by reference, because the statute itself, without more, gives cities the authority to enforce it in municipal court. The very purpose of adoption by reference is to give a city the authority to enforce a statute in municipal court. Since this statute expressly gives municipal courts that authority, adoption by reference is unnecessary. Although the language in subsection (2) was added because the statute deals with juveniles, over whom a municipal court does not generally have jurisdiction, this should not affect enforcement authority without an adopting ordinance.

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May a city define a statutorily-established crime as a civil infraction?
Reviewed: 12/13

No. State law specifically provides that "no act that is a state crime may be made a civil violation." In addition, the punishment for violation of any criminal ordinance must be the same as the punishment provided by state law for the same crime. RCW 35.21.163.

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How are criminal justice funds under RCW 82.14.330 distributed?
Reviewed: 12/13

 Twenty percent appropriated for distribution shall be distributed to cities with a three-year average violent crime rate for each one thousand in population in excess of one hundred fifty percent of the statewide three-year average violent crime rate for each one thousand in population.

Sixteen percent shall be distributed to cities ratably based on population as last determined by the office of financial management, but no city may receive less than one thousand dollars.
Ten percent shall be distributed on a per capita basis to cities that contract with another governmental agency for the majority of the city's law enforcement services.

The remaining fifty-four percent shall be distributed to cities and towns by the state treasurer on a per capita basis. These funds shall be used for: (i) Innovative law enforcement strategies; (ii) programs to help at-risk children or child abuse victim response programs; and (iii) programs designed to reduce the level of domestic violence or to provide counseling for domestic violence victims.


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Request for information on citizen police academies.
Reviewed: 12/13

Citizen police academy programs are intended to open the lines of communication between the community and the Police Department. This concept, which was developed in England in 1977, spread throughout the U.S. during the 1980s. Many police departments from cities and towns of all sizes have instituted citizen police academies. The intent of the these programs is not to train citizens to become police officers, but rather to provide an opportunity to see first-hand the duties and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel. The overriding goal is to enhance the relationship between the police department and the community, resulting in a clearer understanding of what the community can expect from the officers who serve them and what the officers can provide for those who support them. Many of the application forms include a release of liability.

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How do Washington cities deal with the problem of graffiti on public and private property?
Reviewed: 12/13

There appear to be two basic approaches taken by Washington cities to regulate and control graffiti. One approach is aimed at the "graffiti artists" or "taggers" and makes it a crime to damage or deface public or private property. Of course, to be effective this approach requires that police officers must actually catch a tagger in the act. These types of ordinances have been on the books for a long time and, while necessary to have in place, they have not proven to be particularly effective at deterring the incidence of graffiti.

Another approach being tried by some cities is aimed at getting the graffiti removed as soon as possible, the theory being that quick removal will deny the tagger any time to admire their work and therefore remove, or at least reduce, their incentive to do it in the first place. On public property this means some sort of active monitoring program and the use of either city crews or volunteers to wash walls and paint over the graffiti. This may work fine on public property but how do you deal with graffiti on private property? The answer to that in some cities has been to regulate it as a public nuisance and to require removal by the property owner.

Other Strategies

Redmond's innovative approach involves the construction of a legal graffiti wall where taggers are invited to do their thing on a designated display wall, the hope being that they will be less inclined to paint somewhere else.

Pasco has a particularly effective graffiti abatement program which involves the enlistment of juvenile offenders doing community service work to remove graffiti within 48 hours.

Some cities in other states have gone so far as to prohibit the sale of spray paint to minors in an attempt to cut off the supply of paint to the graffiti artists.

St. Paul, Minnesota has found a way to use the Internet to help control graffiti. Their web site has a place for citizens to report graffiti on public or private property.

Sample ordinances

The following are examples of provisions that make it a misdemeanor to deface, damage or destroy property of another:


  • Seattle Ordinance No. 118106
  • Sec. 10A.48.090, Bellevue Municipal Code

The following city ordinances or code sections are examples which address the problem of graffiti as a public nuisance and require clean up or removal by property owners:


  • Seattle Ordinance No. 118082
  • Ch. 7.35, SeaTac Municipal Code

You should review these sample ordinances with your city attorney to evaluate the appropriateness for use by your city and for consistency with state law.


In 1996, the State Legislature amended certain state law provisions to increase the penalties for placing graffiti on the property of another person (RCW 9A.48.090), making acts of graffiti malicious mischief in the third degree. The 1996 legislation also imposed financial responsibility on the parents of minors involved in acts of graffiti in some circumstances (RCW 4.24.190).

Additional Resources:

Check out this Anti-Graffiti Web site ( for a comprehensive collection of links ( related to graffiti abatement, removal, and anti-graffiti neighborhood activities.

Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED)

For several years there has been research and practical application of using design techniques to prevent or reduce crime. We understand that both SeaTac and Everett have adopted CPTED guidelines. Both Tukwila and SeaTac have established a crime-free multifamily housing network for building owners and managers. Other cities in Washington that have been considering CPTED principles include Bellingham, Spokane, Tacoma, and Snohomish. There are a number of reports and studies online under this heading. Here are a few examples on this subject:



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Is it a crime to threaten a city or county employee?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes. RCW 9A.76.180 makes it a class B felony to intimidate a public servant by use of a threat. "Threat" as used in this section means "(a) to communicate, directly or indirectly, the intent immediately to use force against any person who is present at the time; or (b) threats as defined in RCW 9A.04.110(25)." The definition of "threat" found in RCW 9A.04.110 is actually listed under subsection (27) and contains a detailed list of actions that would also constitute an illegal "threat" against a public servant.

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What is the state law which prohibits interference with access to health care and abortion facilities?
Reviewed: 12/13

Chapter 9A.50 RCW imposes criminal and civil sanctions for certain activities that interfere with access to a health care facility or that disrupt the normal functioning of the facility. Prohibited activities include reckless interference or disruption by: (1) physically obstructing or impeding access; (2) making noise that unreasonably disturbs; (3) trespassing; (4) telephoning the facility repeatedly; or (5) threatening injury to persons or property. An exception from these prohibitions is provided for "lawful picketing or other publicity for the purpose of providing the public with information."

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My city did not receive a distribution of funds under RCW 82.14.320. What happened?
Reviewed: 12/13

No city may receive a distribution under this section from the municipal criminal justice assistance account unless:

     (a) The city has a crime rate in excess of one hundred twenty-five percent of the statewide average as calculated in the most recent annual report on crime in Washington state as published by the Washington association of sheriffs and police chiefs;

     (b) The city has levied the (sales) tax authorized in RCW 82.14.030(2) at the maximum rate or the (real estate excise) tax authorized in RCW 82.46.010(3) at the maximum rate; and

     (c) The city has a per capita yield from the tax imposed under RCW 82.14.030(1) at the maximum rate of less than one hundred fifty percent of the statewide average per capita yield for all cities from such local sales and use tax.


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What does the sign "WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT" mean when placed beneath a school speed limit sign?
Reviewed: 12/13

WAC 468-95-335 states: "The supplemental or lower panel of a "SCHOOL SPEED LIMIT 20" sign which reads "WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT" shall indicate to the motorist that the 20-mile per hour school speed limit is in force under the following conditions:


  • School children occupying or walking within the marked crosswalk.
  • School children are waiting at the curb or on the shoulder of the roadway and are about to cross the road by way of the marked crosswalk.
  • School children are present or walking along the roadway, either on the adjacent sidewalk or, in the absence of sidewalks, on the shoulder within the posted school speed limit zone extending 300 feet, or other distance established by regulation, in either direction from the marked crosswalk.

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May council ban the carrying of firearms at council meetings?
Reviewed: 12/13

No, the city council is preempted by state law with respect to firearms regulation. State law does prohibit possessing a weapon in certain places within a city, such as courtrooms, and does allow a city to restrict firearm possession in city-operated stadiums and convention centers. See RCW 9.41.300. However, state law does not allow a city to generally prohibit firearms in council chambers.

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How long is the basic police academy training?
Reviewed: 12/13

According to the Criminal Justice Training Commission's Web site, the basic police academy training consists of a 720-hour course. The course schedule is posted on the Criminal Justice Training Commission's Web site. For more information on the academy, go to the Criminal Justice Training Commission's Web site.

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Does a city have authority to contract for overflow jail facilities with a county other than the one in which it is located?
Reviewed: 12/13

Yes, the first sentence of RCW 70.48.090 reads: "Contracts for jail services may be made between a county and a city, and among counties and cities."

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Are cities required to pay for fire protection for city buildings and property if they annex into a fire district?
Reviewed: 12/13

RCW 52.30.020 provides that whenever a fire protection district includes within its area buildings and equipment owned by a municipal corporation, the municipality shall contract with the fire protection district for fire protection services.

This is a mandatory requirement.

AGLO 1974, No. 5 gives the opinion that the legislature by its enactment of these provisions:

. . . manifested an intent that fire protection services received by a . . . municipal corporation by reason of its ownership of buildings and equipment situated within a fire protection district should be paid for by the benefiting agency or municipality.

Unfortunately the statute does not contain any guidance regarding what the conditions of the contract should contain and the measure of payment is left to negotiation between the parties. The above-cited AGLO also stated that:

. . . the contractual terms ultimately agreed upon as a consequence of this negotiating function should reflect charges which are based, insofar as practicable, upon the estimated costs to the contracting fire protection district of the services which are to be provided under the contract.

For more information on this topic, see our Interlocal Cooperation in Fire Services and Local Government Fire Protection Servivce Providers (this page contains a number of links to contracts).

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Is there a statutory limit on the number of volunteers allowed in a volunteer fire department?
Reviewed: 12/13

No. RCW 41.24.050 used to provide that a volunteer fire department was limited to 25 members for each one thousand population. The 2002 legislature amended this statute to remove the limit.

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The city is entertaining the idea with a neighboring city of merging their fire departments, either through an interlocal agreement or a regional fire authority. Is this permitted and, if so, what other cities have merged?
Reviewed: 12/13

Authority exists in state law for either to be done. The Washington Interlocal Cooperation Act, Ch. 39.34 RCW, provides a mechanism for two or more cities to contract with each other for fire protection services, and state law in Ch. 52.26 RCW allows for the establishment of a regional fire protection service authority composed of two or more adjacent fire protection jurisdictions (fire district, city, town, port district, or Indian tribe). See our Regional Fire Protection Service Authority web page for information on the establishment of a regional fire protection service authority. A number of regional fire authorities have been formed in the state – including Kent (the city and a fire district), Riverside (Centralia and a fire district), North [Snohomish] County (two fire districts), South Whatcom (four fire districts), Valley Regional (three cities), Southeast Thurston (a city and two districts), and West Thurston (two fire districts).

There are not as many examples of cities contracting with each other for fire protection services. One example is Tacoma and Fircrest.

We also have more examples of cities and fire districts operating jointly through interlocal agreements. Examples are:

  • King County FPD No. 10 - Eastside Fire and Rescue - Includes (annexed) city of Carnation; Consolidated service with Issaquah and North Bend (See documents
  • Mountlake Terrace - Joint operation with Snohomish FPD No. 1 (See additional information) – also includes Edmonds, Brier, and Snohomish

Other Joint operations: 

More general information can be found on MRSC Web pages:

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Can a city establish a joint or consolidated police department with another city?
Reviewed: 02/13

There is no specific statutory authorization for the establishment of a regional or joint or consolidated police department involving two or more cities, similar to what is authorized for fire departments/districts in chapter 52.26 RCW. However, we have suggested in the past that the Interlocal Cooperation Act, chapter 39.34 RCW, provides the necessary authority for two or more cities to consolidate their police departments into one department or agency to provide law enforcement services to the contracting cities, though there may be some legal issues involving compliance with state civil service laws. RCW 39.34.030 authorizes any two or more public agencies may enter into agreements with one another for "joint or cooperative action," as long as each agency has the authority to perform such action individually.

Despite this apparent authority in chapter 39.34 RCW to establish such a joint or consolidated police department, we are not aware of any cities in the state that do so, in the sense of creating a separate entity, though the following agreements go in that direction: 

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