While Clark County voters will be electing a new sheriff for the first time in decades, The Columbian Editorial Board is confident the Sheriff's Office will remain in good hands. With Garry Lucas retiring after 24 years on the job, four candidates with vast law enforcement experience are seeking the position.
The Columbian recommends that Chuck Atkins and Shane Gardner advance out of the Aug. 5 primary to this year's general election. As always, this serves merely as a recommendation designed to help inform citizens as they examine the issues and consider the ideas put forth by the candidates.
Atkins, a retired sheriff's office commander, is a polished speaker who demonstrates strong leadership skills and a command of any situation. He has broad experience in the field, including time as a precinct commander, time with the K-9 unit and service with a SWAT unit. He comes across as somebody who could effectively establish policy and create an effective culture throughout the department. Atkins emphasizes the importance of forging alliances with private groups and with other public agencies in cultivating resources for the sheriff's office.
Gardner, the community outreach sergeant for the department, also has experience with the Clark/Skamania Drug Task Force and the Substance Abuse Advisory Board. He has built a philosophy that stresses communication with — and compassion for — the public in performing police work. For example, during an online chat sponsored by The Columbian, he said, "We have deputies asking about citizenship when they're in the middle of an assault investigation and it shuts down the victim's demeanor because they're worried they're going to be deported, and that's not what we're there to investigate." During a meeting with the editorial board, Gardner stressed communication with officers: "One of the great things that Sheriff Lucas has brought in is that you have the ability to make a decision."
John Graser and Ed Owens also are on the ballot and also would bring strong experience to the job. Graser promotes a plan to add deputies on the streets by moving them out of administrative positions, but Atkins has questioned whether that is workable: "I would challenge John to find where those bodies would come from." Owens emphasizes "innovation, empowerment, collaboration and trust" in reforming the department. He was fired by the sheriff's office in 2011, a year after his 3-year-old son, Ryan, got into a safe in the family's home and fatally shot himself. An investigation determined that Owens violated county policy, and he currently is suing the county for wrongful termination, retaliation, defamation, invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy.
Regardless of who wins the job of sheriff, adding officers will be an issue. Only one sheriff's department in the state has a lower officer-to-population ratio, and county commissioners recently freed up funding for eight additional deputies. The concern is whether that will be accompanied by a sustainable funding stream. With no incumbent in the race and with four candidates who have some strong points, we encourage voters to become informed about the issues in the sheriff's contest. The Columbian's chat with all four candidates is available online, as is the editorial board's meeting with the candidates. Among those candidates, Atkins and Gardner appear the most capable of bringing collaborative, thoughtful, forward-looking leadership to the sheriff's office. We recommend them in the primary.
Coming Tuesday: 18th Legislative District, Pos. 1