Centralia Police Department will withdraw from the Lewis County Regional SWAT team due to financial reasons as of March 1, to the frustration of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, which found out in a letter, Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza told the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday.
“It was a total surprise to us,” Snaza said. “Our frustration is in the fact that how we find out is through a letter.”
Additionally, Snaza pointed out that no mention was made of the department’s intention to leave in a chief’s meeting held the day before the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office received the letter.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” Snaza said. “The lack of professionalism of how this occurred was totally inappropriate and it’s not what I would expect from a chief of Centralia Police Department or their administration.”
Centralia Police Chief Carl Nielsen, however, said the decision was based on the department’s finances, and said nothing about the decision to leave the Lewis County Regional SWAT team was “personal.” He said Centralia officers will still cross-train with Lewis County and should the financial outlook for his department change, he’d be open to re-joining.
“It all came down to finances,” Nielsen said.
The Lewis County Regional SWAT team was established five years ago. The Centralia Police Department and Lewis County Sheriff’s Office contribute a majority of the positions, while the Chehalis Police Department also contributes officers.
“The make of the team is anywhere from eight to 10 (officers) at any point in time from Centralia, anywhere from eight to 10 from the county and one to two from Chehalis,” Undersheriff Wes Rethwill said.
The Centralia Police Department entered the partnership under the direction of former chief Robert Berg. According to Snaza, Berg embraced the idea of the Regional SWAT team and the decision to enter the joint venture was made by the “command staff at the Centralia Police Department.”
Centralia Police will no longer be involved with the Lewis County Regional SWAT team as of March 1.
“I’m surprised,” said Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund following Tuesday’s meeting. “To know there’s somewhat of a budget crisis in the (Centralia) police department is a bit of a surprise to me. Is it because they’re not able to fill positions, so they’re paying overtime? Or is it other factors? It’s a sign of unity when we work on this and just to see one part of the unity, which is a very big part, I just want to see how we can resolve that so we can continue.”
The Sheriff’s Office will remain involved with the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team, or JNET, “for the time being,” according to Snaza. However, he did add he was “hopefully optimistic,” about the future of JNET.
Snaza and Rethwill met with Chief Nielsen and Deputy Chief Stacy Denham on Monday to discuss the decision. Rethwill called the meeting productive.
“I had requested the meeting, they came to the table,” Snaza said. “I appreciate them being there to listen and to understand where we were coming from. They have clearly stated it’s not personal. (Their departure) is not for any other reasons than financial reasons. They’re indicating that they’re spending quite a bit of money on overtime”
Snaza confirmed that the Regional SWAT team will still assist Centralia should any need arise and they will continue operation without the contributions of the Centralia Police Department.
“I will assure the commissioners and the county citizens that we still have a SWAT team, we are still fully able to deploy,” Snaza said. “We will continue with what we set out with five years ago to continue with the SWAT team.”