QUINCY — It wasn’t a lot of money the Quincy City Council voted unanimously to spend at its most recent last Tuesday.
Just $1,800 a month — $21,600 a year.
But the money reflects a situation some cities and counties in Washington are finding themselves in as the state battles the U.S. Department of Justice over conditions the federal government has set mandating local law enforcement cooperation with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
According to Quincy Police Chief Kieth Siebert, Grant County receives about $1,800 per month to help pay for a Quincy detective to participate in Grant County’s Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (INET) through the U.S. government’s Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant, informally known Byrne-JAG. The grant is designed to help fund all aspects of law enforcement, courts and treatment pertaining to state and local anti-drug efforts.
“The Byrne-JAG grant for our state was pulled,” Siebert said. “We think the grant will come back, we just don’t know when.”
Siebert said he believes cooperation with INET is too important to let the city’s participation lapse over a matter of money.
“Drug crimes know no jurisdiction,” he said.
According to Jaime Smith, communications director for Gov. Jay Inslee, Grant County is one of several counties that have seen state-level Byrne-JAG funding suspended over a multi-state lawsuit challenging conditions attached to federal grant funding.
“The DOJ wanted to require unlimited access to local inmates, and we had concerns about civil liberties,” she said.
Smith said the state was also concerned about having to give ICE prior notice of the release of certain prisoners, requiring them to be held past their official release date.
At stake is roughly $3 million in federal grants out of a total of $8 million given to Washington in the 2017-18 funding cycle, Smith said. Currently, that money is being held in escrow until the court cases challenging DOJ are settled, Smith added.
However, Smith added the hold-up does not involve Byrne-JAG grants given directly to local law enforcement agencies, and that Gov. Inslee by himself does not have the power to prevent counties and local police forces from cooperating with ICE.
“We have no jurisdiction over local law enforcement,” she said.
Steven Stranchan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said short of the state legislature passing a law forbidding cooperation with ICE, police departments and sheriff’s offices set their own policies for cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.
“It’s the individual policies of individual departments,” Stranchan said. “And that doesn’t change with the state’s unwillingness.”
According to Grant County Undersheriff Ryan Rechtenwald, the loss of the funding hurts even as the amount of federal grant money to help fund INET has dwindled over the years.
“It does hurt,” Rechtenwald said. “The grant money has been whittling away, and they provided $145,000 for the entire task force, split between each agency.”
Quincy, Ephrata, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol all contribute to INET, Rechtenwald said.
“We forecast there would be issue (with funding),” the undersheriff added. “We budgeted to be self-sufficient, that the grant would go away. Thankfully, the smaller agencies have stepped in.”
Like the Ephrata Police, who are committed to keeping a detective in INET despite having to pay nearly all the cost.
“We’re going to go ahead and do business as usual,” said Ephrata Police Chief Mike Warren. “The lion’s share (of that cost) is shouldered by our department, so the loss (of funding) doesn’t impact us as much.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.