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Public Safety

Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State related to public safety. Click on any question to see the answer.

These questions are for educational purposes only. All questions and answers have been edited and adapted for posting to the MRSC website, and all identifying information, including the inquirer’s name and agency name, has been removed.


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Is there anything preventing a city from offering reward money for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in a crime like what the FBI does?
Reviewed: 06/20

No. RCW 10.85.030 specifically authorizes cities to offer rewards for information. MRSC has also previously advised that there is no gift of public funds because the expenditure is for a proper public purpose, and the city is getting some consideration (information) in return.

A custom search of Washington city codes turned up a number of sample code provisions establishing reward programs.

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What is the County Sheriff’s responsibility to respond to calls within the city when the city police department is unable to provide coverage?
Reviewed: 02/20

The sheriff serves the entire county, including each city and town. The RCWs that describe the sheriff’s duties are not limited to the unincorporated parts of the county. There is an attorney general opinion to that effect, AGO 1990 No. 4. Here is a summary of that opinion:

  1. The county sheriff's duty to enforce state law applies equally in incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county.
  2. If a city is unable to provide for adequate police protection, the county sheriff must take this factor into account in allocating the resources of the sheriff's office. However, the statutes do not obligate the sheriff to provide a city with a specific number of police officers or a specific level of police services.
  3. If a city wants to obtain a specific number of county police officers or level of police services, the Interlocal Cooperation Act empowers the city to contract with the county to provide those services.
  4. That is the problem if the city does not have its own police force, or there is no 24-hour coverage. The sheriff can be looked to for law enforcement services, but the level of service provided is up to the sheriff, not the city.

Obviously, the sheriff deputies will respond to serious crimes within the city, but they may not provide patrol or take action for certain types of violations. The only way the city can assure the level of service it desires is to have its own police force or to contract with the county for the required services.

If the city’s budget is such that it can no longer have its own police force, the sheriff will provide services without the city having to make payment. But, as indicated above, there is no assurance of the level of service that will be provided. Presumably the level of service will be dependent upon how much police activity is occurring at a given time. The only way the city can be more certain about coverage is to contract with the sheriff. The process will ultimately come down to the negotiations between the city and the county, how much the city is willing to pay, and how much the county wants for its services.

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I know there is an RCW requirement that a public works contract needs to utilize a small works roster. Is there a similar requirement for consultants? Is there a similar requirement for architectural & engineering services (besides the requirements stated)?
Reviewed: 01/20

If the city wants to use a small works roster (for public works projects under $350k), it can elect to do so pursuant to RCW 39.04.155. This is an optional process. If the city elects not to use the small works roster, then a formal competitive bid process must be followed if the project exceeds applicable bid limits. Effective July 28, 2019, ESSB 5418 increased the day labor/bid limits for code cities, second class cities, and towns to $75,500 (single craft) and $116,155 (multiple craft).

If the project is below applicable bid limits, a city may use the small works roster or a minimal competition process. For more on this, see our Find your Contracting Requirements Tool.

For cities, there is no statutory requirement for bidding for services (which would include consultants). This process is expected to be outlined in policy by the agency. The agency can, therefore, define whether it requires a roster to be used, or any other process deemed appropriate. Some agencies establish different procedures depending on the amount anticipated to be spent.

There is no requirement for an agency to use a roster for A&E contracting. A roster can be incorporated into the A&E process of Ch. 39.80 RCW, and such procedures should be set forth in the agency’s policies.

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Can the sheriff's department use the "rule of five" when appointing new officers?
Reviewed: 12/19

No. Unlike cities and towns, the rules for counties lack language that allows local rules that “substantially accomplish the purpose” of the state law. See RCW 41.12.010, applicable to city police, which states:

The provisions of this chapter shall have no application to cities and towns which at the present time have provided for civil service in the police department or which shall subsequently provide for civil service in the police department by local charter or other regulations which said local charter or regulations substantially accomplish the purpose of this chapter, nor to cities having a police force of not more than two persons including the chief of police.

There is no similar language in the county statute, thus eliminating the possibility of a local rule that differs from the state law.

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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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