The competition for Clark County sheriff will see two members of the office compete alongside a member of Vancouver’s law enforcement to replace retiring sheriff Chuck Atkins.
Clark County Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy John Horch, Vancouver Police Corporal Rey Reynolds and county sheriff’s deputy David Shook all declared their candidacy last summer. Following his election to a second term in 2018, Atkins announced he would not seek re-election in this year’s contest.
Each candidate has decades of law enforcement experience, with all recognizing the numerous challenges the office faces. Chief concerns among each candidate include recruitment and retention of officers, improvements at the Clark County Jail, and the importance of implementing a body-worn camera program within the agency.
Horch touts experience in current county leadership
Horch said he was approached about running for sheriff several years back. At the time, he wanted to make sure his decision to seek the position wasn’t ego-driven. More than 30 years into his law enforcement career, Horch wanted to ensure he had the energy needed to take on the role.
“At the end of the day, I care too much about this (sheriff’s office) family and this community to just leave it in anyone’s hands,” Horch said.
He said the office’s chief issue is the lack of adequate staffing across its divisions. Horch said part of the challenge in recruitment is the “quasi anti-law enforcement sentiment” from 2021’s reform legislation, which has kept away or driven out officers from the profession.
The department also hasn’t offered comparable pay or other incentives officers can find in other jurisdictions, he said.
“Staffing is the number one problem that we are facing right now, because without people you can’t serve the community to an adequate and above-par service,” Horch said.
Horch said the jail is likely the greatest liability for the sheriff’s office. He said he would be ready to work with a community coalition to tackle the jail issue as soon as he is elected. He acknowledged building a jail is only half of the issue, as it will have to be staffed and maintained.
Horch said even if the funds are already available to start on a jail project it would still be several years down the road before a new facility became operational. In order to secure needed funding, he said the county has to clearly outline what the funds are going toward.
“People don’t mind paying taxes sometimes if they know that their money is being spent wisely,” Horch said.
Other issues he sees include law enforcement handling mental health calls, which he said have increased dramatically over his tenure.
As he acknowledged the number of officer-involved shootings that have taken place recently, Horch said there seems to be more gun violence in the past six years than at any prior time in his career.
“Officers do not want to be involved in shootings,” Horch said.
He touched on some of the recent changes to state law regarding investigations into those incidents. Although he said he understands the rationale behind the changes, in some cases they prevent a law enforcement agency from providing information to its community. He mentioned the initial reports from the 2020 shooting of Kevin Peterson in Hazel Dell, where the sheriff’s office wasn’t able to release much information.
“We want to tell the public something. Getting up there and just saying ‘we’re sorry this happened’ and not giving them anything else is just kind of a vanilla statement,” Horch said.
Regarding body cameras, Horch said it is “crazy that (the county has) not made body cameras a priority.”
Horch noted the sheriff’s office doesn’t have the budget to run the program. Much of the cost after the purchase of the cameras would originate from records requests.
“Everybody wants body cameras. We’re desperate for them,” Horch said.
Horch touted his position in leadership in the current department as a chief reason he’d be a good fit as sheriff.
“These times that we’re going through are serious times, and you need someone who has been there on the frontlines … and seeing what the issues are firsthand,” Horch said.
Reynolds wants to be a strong voice for sheriff’s office
Following his bid to unseat Washington State Sen. Annette Cleveland in 2020, Reynolds said he became more aware of issues facing Clark County, which made him consider running for sheriff. Reynolds said an increase in crime and sentiments against law enforcement are threats to the law and order he saw in the county in prior years.
“This is the most awesome county ever. … I can’t seem to sit there and wait for it to be destroyed,” Reynolds said,
Reynolds stressed a focus on increasing recruitment and retention. He said the sheriff’s office has one of the lowest number of officers per 1,000 population in the country. He said many sheriff’s deputies felt the office’s administration did not have their back, which led to a “toxic environment” for its personnel. One of his goals, if elected, would be to work to change that feeling.
Reynolds is also concerned about anti-police sentiment which has grown in recent years.
“I understand people had concerns about police brutality, looking at something that occurred 2,000 miles away and then painting all police with the same negative brush,” said Reynolds. “We still need to protect Clark County. We still need to defend Clark County. We still need to be responsive to the citizens of Clark County, and right now we’re not.”
Reynolds recalled a meet and greet in Chelatchie Prairie where residents expressed concerns about an increase of crime in their rural area of the county. He said answers that focused on a lack of funding to pay deputies and stifled hiring due to the current perception of police are “excuses.”
“That is not acceptable,” Reynolds said.
He said the sheriff’s office needs to educate the Clark County Council so they understand the funding needed to keep an effective level of personnel. That includes a budget that reflects new challenges in policing like crisis intervention and working through new police reform laws.
“We cannot keep asking people to do the impossible with nothing, but incredibly that’s what we’re doing,” Reynolds said.
That lack of resources can be seen at the county jail, he said.
“There are conditions where the jail has deteriorated to such an extent, I truly fear for the safety of the people who are in there,” Reynolds said.
Those conditions also pose a liability for the county, he added.
Reynolds said that while he questioned the need for body cameras years ago, now the benefits of having that documentation are clear.
“I think it’s the time for us to do it,” Reynolds said about the cameras. “We probably should’ve done it years ago.”
Reynolds said setting up the program, specifically with regard to producing records, would be “extremely expensive, but under these circumstances, I believe necessary.” He said finding the funding for implementation needs to be a top priority.
Regarding police shootings, he said one avenue would be community involvement to avoid such altercations in the first place.
“What are we doing as a community to make sure that our up-and-coming young men and women don’t have to turn to criminal behavior?” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said his priority on upholding constitutional rights is at the forefront of how he would lead the sheriff’s office.
“Your civil rights are extremely important to me,” Reynolds said.
Shook seeks to modernize department
As a relative newcomer to law enforcement in Washington state, Shook has decades of experience in the field, including a leadership role in Washington County, Oregon. Shook came to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in 2020. He said compared to his previous job in Oregon, Clark County felt “back in the ‘90s” with its policies.
“It was kind of this ‘good ol’ boy, hey if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ kind of thing,” Shook said.
Given his previous experience in administration, fellow sheriff’s office employees came to him and told him he should run, Shook said.
“We’ve been doing the same thing in Clark County for 30 years,” Shook said. “That’s the change that this organization needs. It needs a fresh set of eyes coming from a different location, having experienced some of the modern-day policing.”
If elected, Shook said he would focus and be involved with modernizing the department. He said many agencies who were previously working to get up to speed hit a roadblock during the COVID-19 pandemic, which paused those efforts.
Like the other two candidates, Shook said staffing is a top priority. He said the office needs a stronger connection to the community between the deputies and those they serve.
In between his work in Oregon and Washington, Shook sold body cameras for a private company, which gave him insight into their role in policing.
“Body cameras are that transparent third eye recording device that there’s no bias to it,” Shook said.
He acknowledged the technology isn’t perfect but it helps to provide evidence in a world where trust in an officer’s word alone has eroded.
“I think having a camera, having a recording device, is that helpful equipment that makes sure that exactly what is said is recorded. Exactly what happened is what’s recorded,” Shook said.
Shook also has experience regarding the jail, having received training in Oregon where he learned the “incredibly difficult” job of a corrections officer. Apart from the jail’s age, which was built in the 1980s, he said the facility needs to be staffed appropriately with corrections deputies who are paid appropriately.
“If you don’t have enough people to do it, it makes it even harder to do,” Shook said about jail operations.
On shootings, Shook said it is important to have a trusting relationship with the community so the parties can have earnest conversations about what happens. He noted he has trained other officers in use of force for most of his career.
“As a police officer, I want to go home at the end of the day and I need to do that in as safe a manner as I can,” Shook said.
Shook believes his experience across the different divisions of a sheriff’s office makes him a solid candidate.
“As any leader, you want to say ‘what are we doing, why are we doing it, and is there anything we can do to change it, or is there anything we can do to make sure that we’re doing everything correctly?’” Shook said.
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