Clark County sheriff's race gets 2nd entrant

Retired commander Graser says he would analyze budget, address response times to calls

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 
photoJohn Graser

()

A retired Clark County Sheriff's Office commander has announced he is running for sheriff in the 2014 election, making him the second candidate to enter the race. Six-term incumbent Republican Sheriff Garry Lucas, 71, who took office in 1990, has not said yet whether he will be running again.

Campaign trail

• Sheriff candidate John Graser plans a meet-and-greet event from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Torque Coffee Roasters, 501 Columbia St.

John Graser worked for the sheriff's office for 20 years before he said an on-duty injury from a crash caused him to retire in 1996.

Now that he's healed, he said, "it's time to go back to work."

Graser, a 62-year-old Salmon Creek resident, has lived in Clark County for nearly his entire life and said he is well-suited to take the reins of the agency and improve the law enforcement services to the public.

"I really believe that I can make a difference in people's quality of life," he said. "We need to get back to serving the citizens who are paying for the service."

Graser, a Republican, will face another retired sheriff's commander, Chuck Atkins. Atkins, 58, is a 35-year veteran of the sheriff's office who is a year into retirement.

Although he is a Republican, Graser said he is seeking bipartisan support. He said that he is seeking endorsements but has not announced any.

Graser said he has a plan to make the agency more efficient within the constraints of the existing budget. It starts, he said, with reassessing the agency's current structure to identify redundancies.

"The first thing I want to do is a top-down analysis of the budget," he said. "I represent a fresh look and fresh perspective on the department … A different approach to management structure is in order."

Diversion, home monitoring

As sheriff, he said, he would work to reduce call volume through predictive policing technology and reduce the jail population by expanding diversion programs and electronic home monitoring.

Graser said he would also look into cutting some specialized positions in the agency and shifting those officers to patrol.

While Lucas has pointed to the fact that Clark County ranks second-worst in the state for officers per 1,000 residents within coverage area, Graser said he finds another number unacceptable: the response time.

He said the average response time from when a citizen makes an emergency call (labeled as priority 1 or 2) to when a deputy arrives is about eight minutes; he wants it to be closer to five minutes.

After he "cleans up house," Graser said that if patrol response times are still too slow, "I would like to have a thoughtful conversation with commissioners."

While on the job, Graser worked as a patrol sergeant, was K-9 certified, a member of the SWAT team, was the first commander of the West Precinct and headed the Clark-Skamania Narcotics Task Force.

More information on Graser can be found at his campaign's website, http://www.graserforsheriff.com.

The sheriff is elected to a four-year term and is paid $104,244 a year. The sheriff's office has 396 employees: 133 in enforcement, 148 in corrections, 100 members of support staff and 15 people working in management and administration.