Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1965 No. 28 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


Under existing law a county and a city located therein lacks the authority to enter into a contract whereby the sheriff will provide law enforcement services to the city on a contractual basis under the terms of which the city would reimburse the county for the men and services utilized.

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                                                                    July 26, 1965

Honorable Robert M. Schaefer
Speaker of the House
122 North Devine
Vancouver, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 28

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May a county, and a city located therein, enter into a contract whereby the sheriff of the county will provide law enforcement services to the city in consideration of payment to the county by the city of a stipulated monetary fee?

            We answer your question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.


            You have indicated that your question is prompted by the existence of what you refer to as the "Lakewood Plan" currently in effect in Los Angeles County, California.  Under this plan, you relate, the county sheriff provides law enforcement services to incorporated cities within the county pursuant to a contractual arrangement.

            However, research reveals that in California this procedure is sanctioned by express statutory authority.  Specifically, § 51301 of the California Code, Annotated, provides:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "A board of supervisors may contract with a city, governed under general laws or charter, within the county, and the city legislative body may contract with the county for the performance by its appropriate officers and employees, of city functions."

            Succeeding sections of this code chapter implement this express grant of authority as follows:

            "The term of the contract shall not exceed five years but may continue for periods of five years each, unless the legislative body of either local agency votes not to continue the term at a meeting more than one year before the expiration of any five‑year period."  (§ 51302.)

            "The county officers and employees named in the contract shall exercise within the city all of the powers and duties conferred upon the city officers or employees named in the contract."  (§ 51303.)

            "The city may provide in the contract for the payment to the county of a consideration agreed upon, which shall be paid to the county treasurer."  (§ 51304.)

            "If the contract results in a unification of a county department with a similar city department requiring a reduction of employees in either department and in a particular line of promotion, the reduction shall be made only from those employees most recently employed within the line of promotion without reference to any code number under which the employee is acting at the time of the reduction.  The rule of seniority shall be preserved without discrimination between employees of either local agency."  (§ 51305.)

            It is, of course, fundamental that cities and towns in our state can only exercise those powers expressly granted to them by the legislature, or those necessarily implied from granted powers.  If there is a doubt as to whether the power is granted, it must be denied.  Pacific Etc. Ass'n. v. Pierce  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] County, 27 Wn.2d 374, 353, 178 P.2d 351 (1947).

            A review of the statutes of our state pertaining to counties and cities reveals no express statutory authority enabling them to contract with each other in the matter of such municipal functions as law enforcement‑-by contrast with the situation existing in California as outlined above.  Nor do we find any implied authority for such contracts under existing law.  Accordingly, until and unless legislation of the type currently in effect in California (described herein) is enacted by our legislature, we must conclude that contract law enforcement as described in your question (above paraphrased) is not authorized.1/

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/It is noteworthy that existing statutory law imposes upon a county sheriff the duty of enforcing the law in cities as well as in the unincorporated areas of the county.  RCW 36.28.010; see, also, informal opinions to the prosecuting attorney of Columbia county dated June 7, 1943, and to the prosecuting attorney of Wahkiakum county dated March 24, 1964 (copies enclosed).

            The portion of the earlier of these two informal opinions which states that ". . . compensation which may be paid the sheriff by the City of Dayton for policing that city must be turned in to the county treasury" should be regarded as dicta since the opinion only decides that money, if paid for law enforcement, cannot increase the sheriff's salary but must be credited to the county.  The city's authority to make such payments or enter into a contract to do so, was not considered.