Sheriff race

Bart Olson and Clay Myers are running for Kittitas County Sheriff.

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Editor’s note: This is part one in a two-part article covering the Upper County candidate forums hosted Wednesday. Part one will address questions posed to the Kittitas County Sheriff position, with part two addressing Kittitas County Commissioner District Two candidates.

With multiple county government positions up for grabs on the ballot in November, candidates recently had their first opportunity to voice their opinions on various topics in a public forum setting.

The Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce hosted a candidate forum in Cle Elum Wednesday, inviting candidates for the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners and Kittitas County Sheriff. The event was moderated by Steve Dupont and Paul Jewell. District Two Commissioner candidates Jerry Martens and Jessica Karraker attended the forum along with incumbent Commissioner Laura Osiadacz, along with Sheriff candidate Bart Olson and Incumbent Sheriff Clay Myers.

INCREASED LAW ENFORCEMENT SERVICE

MYERS: Myers said he has been addressing increased Sheriff services in Upper County as part of his strategic plan, including search and rescue capability. With the increased growth in the area, Myers said approximately 70% of all search and rescue calls come from Upper County.

“I’ve already started the process of moving that base from Ellensburg to the Cle Elum area,” he said. “I’ve met with the mayors to start a discussion on how we can best do that in conjunction with opening a west precinct here in the future.”

Along with reallocating manpower to the Upper County service area, Myers said the sheriff’s office is addressing traffic safety issues related to the rapid population growth in Upper County.

“This growth shouldn’t have a negative impact our public,” he said. “If we set up the proper infrastructure and we’re able to provide the right service, then it’s not going to be such a negative experience.”

Myers said he intends on increasing partnerships with the sheriff’s office and state and local law enforcement to help relieve operational costs in Upper County, saying there is room for discussion on the possibility of a joint facility that could combine tasks such as clerical work while maintaining the identities of local police departments.

“There’s some of those tasks that could be shared that could cost money,” he said. “We’re all on the same records management systems, so I think if we could save some money and still be effective as far as setting up those resources.”

OLSON: Olson said he sees the need for increased deputy numbers for the sheriff’s office, and implementing that will take time. He said this is necessary as the population growth continues within Kittitas County. Having noted that many of the reserve officers come from Central Washington University, he said recruitment of more reserve deputies can be a starting point for that expansion.

“I also see that there’s a need to start recruiting for reserves from people in Upper County, where they can be patrolling their own neighborhoods,” he said.

Olson said citizen patrols are another valuable resource to the office, as they provide an extra set of eyes and ears to aid sheriffs deputies.

“I think that’s vitally important,” he said.

Olson said he would like to see squadrons developed, with ones being assigned specifically to Upper and Lower County. He also called for more proactive law enforcement procedures, saying that collisions have gone up while traffic stops have gone down in numbers.

“I would like to see more proactive police work, and I think people seeing more proactive police work out here would show the county we’re going what we can to represent them in Upper County,” he said.

BUDGET PRIORITIES

OLSON: With potential hits to the budget coming as a result of the pandemic, Olson said he would use a combination of analysis and financial prudence before going to the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners to request more funding, but he said he would be comfortable doing so if necessary.

“There’s a lot of gray area there,” he said. “I’d have to know more about how much was being cut or where that would be cut from specifically.”

MYERS: Myers said one of the benefits of the office’s budget is that it comes from a mix of general fund and tax revenues, including the 3/10th’s sales tax that helps fund patrol operations and support services.

“We also have a number of grants, both state and federal that we utilize,” he said.

Myers said the office has done modeling to address potential budget shortfalls, looking at what could be done to maintain fiscal stability. He continued by saying that any potential cuts depend on where the impact to the budget comes from. If sales tax revenues decline for the office, he said there are reserves available from past revenues under the taxes. He said he would be willing to talk to the commissioners about funding, but pointed out that they would likely be in the same position financially as him when it comes to the general fund.

“If we’re impacted negatively on the general fund, this whole county is impacted in the general fund,” he said.

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE ISSUES

MYERS: Myers said he sees mental health and substance abuse to be two of the largest issues facing law enforcement agencies across the country, and that it is an issue that most departments struggle with on a regular basis.

“Our criminal justice system is set up very well to deal with crime,” he said. “I think that we tend to struggle significantly in trying to manage people with substance abuse and people with mental health issues.”

Myers said the sheriff’s office has initiated programs to deal with the situation, including one for medically assisted treatment for substance abuse. He said the office has applied for and been selected to participate in a program that provides holistic treatment for patients who suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues while they are in jail.

“I can’t give you numbers, but a significant amount of people get lost when they’re released from jail and the programs that support them,” he said. “We’re moving towards having them go from release directly into those support services and programs.”

OLSON: Olson said he would like to see a mental health and substance abuse counselor assigned to every correctional facility in the state, saying that if patients can be seen as soon as they enter a facility, law enforcement have more effective influence on their outcomes, lowering the potential for them to re-enter the corrections system in the future.

“Giving them the opportunity to be seen immediately, I think that will have the greatest effect on which programs we can divert them to,” he said. “Diversion programs, recommendations by law enforcement to such programs even if the person doesn’t necessarily go to the corrections facility but we’ve made contact with them on the side of the road. If we can prevent that person from coming to the jail at some point, we need to work hand in hand with mental health and substance abuse counselors.”

ENFORCING THE MASK MANDATE

OLSON: Although he said he respects the concerns of vulnerable populations who support the mask mandate and supports businesses that require mask usage while inside their locations, Olson said it would be very difficult to enforce mask usage in areas such as private businesses.

“I think law enforcement needs to spend their time working on the actual criminal matters out there,” he said. “Preventing crimes, solving crimes. I think education and educating the public for safety is very smart. We should be doing that when possible.”

MYERS: Myers pointed out the debate over what is considered criminal law and what is considered mandates under public health, saying there is a law that authorizes the Governor’s authority to impose mandates.

“The answer is yes, we do regulate those and enforce those, but we enforce those at an educational level, just as we enforce many infractions and low-level crimes at an educational level,” he said. “Enforcement should always be conducted at the lowest possible level. What you’re looking for is voluntary compliance. We’re not here to manage and control people. We’re here to support and protect people.”

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