July 25, 2002 11:00 pm

Baker County officials appeared to have a good idea about developing a training school to assist law enforcement officers in the Northwest. Now a lack of support from important segments in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska is threatening that plan.

THE SCHOOL, known as the Pacific Northwest Law Enforcement Training Center, would be established in Baker City. The center would provide specialized advanced training for rural police agencies. According to supporters, it would not duplicate the basic training already offered by the four states.

Although Brian Cole, chairman of Baker County's Board of Commissioners, feels that significant political support for the center has been established, a July 1 letter from law enforcement training officials in the region suggests otherwise.

The letter, sent to congressional delegates and other public officials, charges that Baker County officials falsely claimed the four states back the county's plan to develop the training center. Among those denying that a partnership has been forged among county officials and the states are Dianne Middle and Alan Scharn, director and deputy director of the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.

"The problem is, when Baker County folks are out making presentations to constituents or legislative officials, they're telling them that all four states are on board with this, and we're not," Scharn said in the letter that was signed by Middle. That's a harsh assessment coming from key players in law enforcement training in our state.

BAKER COUNTY has received numerous letters of support for the center. But Cole is sadly mistaken if he feels that the work of gathering support is over and members of Congress are ready to line up to back the proposal. The training center could be in jeopardy unless the project receives the blessing of Middle and Scharn in Oregon and from their counterparts in Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

Baker County should continue to pursue its dream for a center. The training could be of great value to police agencies in Eastern Oregon and in other rural areas of the Northwest. Having the center in Baker City could bring some economic benefits to Northeast Oregon.

COLE AND THE OTHER Baker County officials backing the plan need to regroup and figure out what went wrong in gathering the support the project needs. It might take some time to build confidence in Baker County's project and establish a support network that could bring in as much as $4 million in federal funding for the project.

The effort could be worthwhile if the training center moves from a dream to reality and meets the legitimate training needs of law enforcement agencies in the region.