Sheriff's Office shuffles duties to bolster patrols

Specialized officers shifted to cope with temporary shortage

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The Clark County Sheriff's Office is moving two of its specialized officers from their posts in an effort to keep up coverage on patrols.

In an email sent this week to several community members, West Precinct Commander Steven Shea says a shortage of patrol sergeants has resulted in heavy overtime costs.

So the office is cutting back a gang detective and a community outreach position and sending the officers back to patrol duty.

The change is expected to happen some time in the coming week.

The email was sent from Shea through Sgt. Shane Gardner, whose position in community outreach is being eliminated.

Gardner is a visible and prolific member of the Sheriff's Office. He's served as liaison to Clark County's many neighborhood associations.

Gardner also heads the sheriff's Explorer program, which works with local youth in an attempt to educate them on the workings of the criminal justice system and help with potential career decisions.

Earlier this year, Gardner received an award from Clark County during the "State of the County" address recognizing his efforts in building closer ties with the community.

In his speech, Gardner spoke on the merits of living "an intentional" life.

"(I) try to do everything with intentionality," Gardner said to the crowd. "And I've been amazed by those results. The most amazing gift from that has been relationships from many of you."

He also thanked Sheriff Garry Lucas for his effort in establishing an outreach program.

Lucas said the reorganization decision is a difficult one, and hopefully a temporary measure.

"We're not really losing it," Lucas said of Gardner's position. "This is a short-time solution to a short-term problem."

Lucas said he currently has officers in training programs that are pulling them from patrol. He said "in four to six months, we will have those troops back."

"And I'm hopeful it won't be that long," he added.

Lucas said the bottom line is the office's funding levels. The county has budgeted $37.7 million for the sheriff in the 2013-14 biennium.

"I'm not comfortable with the level of manpower we have," Lucas said. "We are woefully understaffed. We have cut our specialized positions down to the bare bones. We're working on a presentation for a work session with the board (of Clark County commissioners) to illustrate how understaffed we are."

County Commissioner Steve Stuart said he is looking forward to that meeting and hopes to talk specifically about Gardner's position.

"The outreach to our community is a top priority and Shane has done an amazing job with connecting with our community," Stuart said. "The next step is to connect to figure out with the sheriff how to proceed because that connection with the community enhances public safety."

Gardner said last week he was disappointed in the change, as he loves his job, but says he'll be "a good soldier" about the change.

"I'm excited to get back in the trenches and bring my experiences back to graveyard patrol," Gardner said. "I'm excited to take my energy and my perspective back with me."

Gardner, 43, has been considered by some in the community to be a viable candidate for sheriff, should Lucas, 69, decide not to run in next year's election.

"I've been contacted about that, yes," Gardner said. "And I am considering it, but at this point I don't know either way. But I mean who wouldn't consider it? It's the oldest law enforcement agency in the state of Washington, and it's had a great leader."

And to that end, Gardner said he won't challenge Lucas if he runs again.

"Everything I've learned about law enforcement has been under him," Gardner said. "I consider him a mentor, and he's well-respected everywhere I've traveled for training. If Sheriff Lucas intends on running again I wouldn't say I have a better way. I would continue to learn under his tutelage."

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.