There will soon be a new Clark County sheriff in town, and three candidates with nearly 100 years of law enforcement experience between them are vying for the position.
On the ballot are John Horch, the chief criminal deputy at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office; Rey Reynolds, a corporal with the Vancouver Police Department; and David Shook, a patrol deputy at the sheriff’s office. Two-term Sheriff Chuck Atkins is not seeking re-election.
Horch, 54, touts his 33-year career at the sheriff’s office, during which he’s worked just about every assignment within the enforcement branch, he said. Atkins appointed him to the administrative position in 2019. Horch says he knows the ins-and-outs of the issues facing the department and what it will or won’t take to solve them.
Reynolds, 63, has a 38-year career in law enforcement, but he says he hopes to bring a fresh set of eyes to the agency. His decades at the Vancouver Police Department have given him perspective on the neighboring sheriff’s office and its flaws that have grown under current leadership, he said.
Although Shook, 54, has only been with the sheriff’s office for about two years, he spent 25 years rising through the ranks at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon, eventually retiring as a patrol operations lieutenant. He says many of the glaring holes he sees at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are all too familiar after he helped implement solutions to similar struggles at his former department. He’ll work toward the solutions that he feels gained traction before his 2018 retirement from the Oregon agency, he said.
Leadership at the sheriff’s office has sounded the alarm over critically low levels of staffing. Atkins announced in March that the agency would no longer respond to certain low-level crimes due to a shortage of deputies.
The candidates acknowledged that the department’s staffing woes have been a long time coming. They agreed that the pay at the sheriff’s office is too low, especially compared with nearby agencies. While the agency is struggling to attract new hires, current staffers are leaving for better benefits and a better schedule at the Vancouver Police Department.
Horch’s current role puts him in charge of hiring and recruitment. He said he plans to create better relationships with the county council and county manager, who set the budgets for the office and are involved in collective bargaining with the agency’s guilds.
While the sheriff doesn’t decide pay for staff, Horch said he feels the leader should be advocating for what the office needs and should be more involved in conversations with county leadership.
Reynolds drafted a supplemental budget proposal that he said he’ll present to the county council even if he isn’t elected sheriff. His proposal calls for an additional $2.08 million this year for pay for enforcement deputies, $2.02 million for corrections deputies and $500,000 for support staff, for a total of $4.64 million. Over five years, he said his proposal calls for an additional $23 million for pay to “stop the bleeding.”
Reynolds said the county could pay for his proposal using federal American Rescue Plan Act funding and money from the office’s budget surplus.
Shook disagrees with some who have said they believe that recent police reform legislation has driven people away from a career in law enforcement or resulted in officers retiring early. He attributes a recent wave of retirements to a generation of employees aging out of the agency, seemingly all at once.
Shook said he’d utilize his leadership experience from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to create a more reasonable schedule for deputies, which would free up dollars the agency is spending on overtime.
He also said he would strategize ways to address more of the root causes of Clark County’s crime instead of responding to the same issues over and over.
Need for a new jail
All three candidates agree that the current jail is outdated, unsafe and too small.
Reynolds emphasized a need to partner with agencies that the sheriff’s office works closely with and said he would suggest they pitch in on building a more mixed-use space. He proposed incorporating local mental health care providers, substance use programs and other agencies into the footprint of any new facility. That way, he said, when deputies take someone who is in need of those services to the jail, they don’t have far to go to get the help that will matter.
Shook said he would propose expanding the current jail’s footprint to the west. He suggests building the new wing with all of the facility’s current needs before later going back to update the older areas. He also suggests utilizing more of the space in the Juvenile Detention Center, which he said is currently a waste of space with few people inside.
Shook is the only candidate who has held a corrections certification.
Horch said that although a lot of people have ideas about what to do about the jail, many of them aren’t feasible. He said he has been involved in conversations about replacing the jail that have stalled over the years, and he agreed it has taken too long to commit to a plan.
“My No. 1 job would be, this is a priority. I’m going to keep that momentum going, and we’ve got to get answers,” Horch said. “And if we get stuck — I told the county council, when we say we’re going to do something and we don’t do it, I’m accountable to the people. That’s my job as a sheriff is to keep the people informed to where we’re at.”
He said that if the county could come up with the money, he would prefer to build a new facility where the existing jail stands, adjacent to the Clark County Courthouse in downtown Vancouver.
Reynolds and Horch said they feel the majority of Clark County residents trust the sheriff’s office and its deputies. However, Shook said he sees that sentiment lacking in the community.
“We have a credibility and a trust issue here amongst our community, whether it’s people of color in the BIPOC community or just everybody together,” Shook said. “There’s so many areas that need tweaking, fixing, modernizing, because that’s really my issue here is everything’s old and antiquated. It just needs a new vision.”
Each candidate hopes to be more present in the community and get more people involved in advisory boards and other committees.
Shook particularly hopes to engage more with minority communities and to increase the diversity of the sheriff’s office to reflect that of the community.
Horch noted that communication with the public is one area in which his current boss has fallen short. He’s also noticed that some feel all of the talk about the issues is disingenuous when there’s no follow-through. He hopes to prove to all those willing to get involved that he will do something about their concerns.
Shook said his background as the training coordinator for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office will help him lead the Clark County agency through police reform legislation and increased accountability laws.
Reynolds said 99 percent of the community trusts Clark County deputies. He said the department has some of the best officers in the world but that management has been ineffective. One way he suggests proving to the community how skilled deputies are is through body camera footage.
None of the candidates oppose body-worn cameras for the sheriff’s office. In fact, they agreed that it’s taken too long to implement a program.
After working for police camera company Utility Associates following his 2018 retirement from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Shook brings knowledge of programs at departments across the country. He also helped implement a body camera program at his former agency. He wants to invest in even more police technology for Clark County.
Horch successfully advocated for body cameras to come to the department. Since then, funding efforts have failed at the ballot box. He disagrees with taxing residents and said the money should come from the county’s general fund.
He also noted that the biggest strain on the agency when kickstarting a program will be the staffing and training required to handle public records requests for the footage. He anticipates it will require another five to seven employees to oversee the storage, retention and disclosure of the data.
Reynolds said the county doesn’t need to tax residents in order to fund the program and the department has plenty of money in its budget surplus to start a program now.
“If the safety of the public is important, if we want to bring the trust in our community to a high level, if we want to have a solid, transparent organization, why have we not had body-worn cameras?” Reynolds said. “There is no excuse. To me, it borders on negligence.”
Shook said he’d leverage more grant and federal funding to avoid waiting through another election cycle of asking voters to approve a tax.
Use of force
Horch said he does not believe the department has had a problem with using too much force or the increased number of shootings in the past few years. He said any instance during which deputies use force against someone is reviewed extensively, both internally and externally.
Even so, he said, just because the use of force is ruled to have been legal, doesn’t mean it should have happened.
“The overall bigger picture is hiring the right person of character and then training them and then the end goal is you wouldn’t have as many — if you had issues, you wouldn’t have as many,” Horch said.
Both Horch and Shook also suggested teaching the public more about what deputies experience and what they’re thinking during certain calls for service.
One area Shook sees a need for improvement is in the agency’s training, all-around.
“Here, training is more of a necessary evil, versus this is what’s going to improve our staff to make us better at what we’re doing,” Shook said. “Here, it’s like, ‘the state tells us we’ve got to do these things,’ instead of finding out, what’s our goal and purpose in this training? Well, it’s to provide better services to our community and to make sure our staff is well trained in things.”
Reynolds agreed the training at the sheriff’s office is lacking and said the department needs more funding in order to keep up with police reform legislation. However, he attributed the increase in shootings to an increase in crime.
“The number of shootings that have happened in the past is a direct result of the increase in crime in our area,” Reynolds said. “And we’ve noticed that increase in crime throughout the country as a result of a number of lax and failed policies that are being implemented nationwide. And these failed and inadequate policies have placed the safety of the people of Clark County in jeopardy.”