Sheriff Candidates Battle on Oversight, Jails, and Leadership
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich hopes voters will elect him for a third term, but he’s up against a fellow republican and union-backed candidate, Doug Orr. The frosty relationship between the two candidates has grown out of disagreements on police oversight, the county jail, and leadership style.
The role of Spokane County sheriff is no easy task. The sheriff patrols a border county (inside a state that legalized marijuana), manages an overflowing jail, and oversees 220 deputies, a handful of whom were investigated for sex on duty, insurance fraud, and other violations this year.
Sheriff Knezovich told us he is running based on his successes and his ideas, including: "smart justice, the blueprint for reform; the fact that repeat offenders need to be taken off our streets; technology, we need to improve the technology base of public safety; and the fact that we have been very successful.”
He cites county crime stats, like the sheriff’s office having no unsolved homicides in the last ten years, and that violent crime is down more than 50 percent since 2007 in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Opponent Doug Orr has more than 25 years experience in law enforcement, currently as a detective with the Spokane Police Department, and previously as an officer in Idaho and South Carolina. He has a masters degree in Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga, and says he wants to create a different type of sheriff leader.
Orr: "We would expect that the police leader would want to put more deputies on the street, instead we get a new racetrack. You would expect there to be, after what we’ve seen over the last six years, that there would be civilian oversight, but we don’t have that. Citizens would expect to see, as crime goes down across the country, fewer jail space and a lot less crime but we don’t see that. We hear a call for a new jail and we hear that property crime rates are up.”
The sheriff’s office has 30 less deputies than in 2008, something both Orr and Knezovich say should change. The numbers are also off at the Spokane County Jail, which was built for about 460 inmates, and holds up to 660 in recent years. Knezovich is a leader in planning for a new jail. But Orr says the idea of creating a new jail is not well researched.
Orr: “To build a bigger jail to reduce crime is just counter intuitive; it doesn’t make any sense at all. Whether you want to call it a one hundred million dollar, two hundred million dollars, whatever it is, it’s a mega million dollar jail that we don’t need to build, and it would be a testament to our inability to control crime in this county.”
Knezovich: “This isn’t about a new jail, this is about replacing Geiger Corrections, which is a World War II, Cold War era army barracks. It was never designed to be a jail, it’s dangerous, it costs you a lot of money to operate, and needs to be leveled.”
"Smart Justice" and civilian oversight:
Knezovich adds that he’s also an advocate for smart justice reform, and says he is the one who brought the idea to Spokane. Orr also wants to implement smart justice, and says instead of a new jail the county should work to draw down the jail population and move towards a community corrections center concept.
Orr: “There are some people that do not respond to treatment, that do not respond to our goodwill, they are there to hurt us… But for those people who are willing to change, and those people who have it in themselves to respond to treatment, and its been proven to work, we keep them from coming back. And that’s 130 dollars a day that we don’t have to pay for the taxpayer.”
Orr also says the sheriff’s office needs more citizen oversight, and he wants to bring forward an oversight package. Knezovich submitted his own idea to the state legislature, which was shut down.
Knezovich: “What really separates me and my current opponent is he may talk about police oversight but he fights the very mechanism, the law that I tried to pass that said law enforcement officers should not commit crimes on duty, nor should they lie. He fought that.”
Knezovich’s measure got negative reviews from police union leaders and community members, including the Spokane County Deputy Sheriffs Association. That group has thrown its support to Orr. Knezovich says its sad that his union leadership wasn’t behind him.
Knezovich: “Matter of fact they accused me of having too high of moral standards because I fired the guy for having sex on duty. There’s no such thing as having too high of moral standard when you’re running a sheriff’s office.”
Orr says why fight 100 people when you can partner with just one or two unions in the county.
Orr: “To get a complete front to back civilian oversight package. And I’m not talking about just responding to misconduct, I’m talking about going to the front portion where we hire people.”
Knezovich says the sheriff’s office has the most stringent hiring process its ever had, but Orr doesn’t think it goes far enough. He was hired as an officer in Greenville, South Carolina by a citizen’s board, and says Spokane should have similar civilian involvement.
The two sheriff’s candidates disagree on major topics, but find some agreement on technology. Both say yes to body cameras. They also agree that leadership is important to the position, but Knezovich has thrown jabs at Orr that he hasn’t led an organization, while Orr, with a masters degree, says leadership is about influence, not telling people what to do.
Copyright 2014 Spokane Public Radio