The Candidates for Clark County Sheriff, Part Two

by lewwaters

See PART ONE

Video of first forum here

DEALING WITH GANGS

Gangs have been a problem for a long time and while they might not be as big a problem in Clark County as elsewhere, they still pose a problem for law enforcement here that must be dealt with.

“Gangs should be an ongoing concern for law enforcement. If we do not work with the community to provide education and training to high risk kids, we will be dealing with them as young adults in our criminal justice system” says Shane Gardner. He intends to deal with gangs “in partnership with the Safe Streets Task Force, multi-agency task forces, and community mentor programs.”

Gardner also admits that law enforcement cannot deal with the issue alone saying, “We need to engage our community in addressing the underlying reasons that children seek out gangs, and/or gangs grow and recruit in our communities.”

Citing “too few deputies and officers in the county assigned to gang enforcement,” John Graser feels that “combining the Gang Unit and the Drug Task Force” would be an effective means of dealing with gangs since they work on many of the same issues. Graser sees such “pooling of resources” as a means to “bring a larger group of deputies and officers to bear on the problem” as well as bring about “more efficient and productive sharing of information.”

Like Gardner, he also sees the need for strong community involvement, “working with citizen and neighborhood groups and the schools and continued participation in the Safe Streets Task Force and the Safe Schools Task Force.”

Having “worked as a behavioral specialist with at risk youth,” Ed Owens would take a “layer approach, partnering with the community, prevention and enforcement.” Realizing that younger children are the “most vulnerable,” Owens would “focus efforts and resources in our schools more in the middle school age range.”

“The Sheriff’s office also needs to start looking out for the safety of students and staff, this is best accomplished by an effective School Resource Officer program in the middle and high schools” Claims Owens. “Simply put, I feel we are missing the mark and not focusing our efforts in the right area.”

Owens would utilize the “wrap around” model, “that “focuses on helping youth by providing and coordinating resources, mentoring our youth to empower them to make better decisions and provide them with other options in life.”

Mentioning the success of the “first inter-agency gang task force in Clark County” that he started and supervised and feels was disbanded prematurely, Chuck Atkins would address gangs “through a combination of prevention efforts through the Safe Communities Task Force and enforcement efforts by units such as the Tactical Detective Unit.”

“We currently have a fantastic coalition of community partners working under the banner of the Clark County Safe Communities Task Force” Atkins says. “They do wonderful work that focuses on moving kids away from, or out of gang involvement,” adding that the “Clark County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Detective Unit” he created “concentrates on working violent crime investigations at the street level, which includes gang enforcement,” in spite of “limited staff and resources.”

Also seeing the need for strong community involvement, Atkins says, “The bottom line is that the most effective way to fight gang crime is to get to know who the gang members are, neighborhood by neighborhood, and then impact their ability to commit crime through enforcement.”

SHERIFF GARRY LUCAS

With Sheriff Lucas’ long career as our County Sheriff coming to a close, citizens of the community have developed perceptions of the Sheriff’s Department. With that in mind I asked what, if anything, would each do differently from Sheriff Lucas.

Ed Owens offers a “different, fresh leadership style and approach as Sheriff… change how we interact and serve the community.” Owens says “Primarily the things I will change is how we interact and are in-serve the community, something that seems to have gotten lost or forgotten, as has been that the Sheriff work’s for you, and the Sheriff also works for the people he employs. As you can see from several answers, there are things I plan to do to increase this transparency and increase accountability, such as establishing a County Brady standard, process and due process, and institute a First Sergeant like position within the Sheriff’s Office.”

John Graser “would be more personally engaged with the community and be more accessible to the citizens. I will have less reliance on the management process and more emphasis on putting sworn deputies back on patrol. I will be a more ‘hands-on’ Sheriff with the public and the staff of the department. There needs to be longer range strategic planning as well. The anticipated population growth of the county over the next 20 years and a recovering economy will place increased demands on law and justice services, particularly the operation of the jails. We need to get ahead of these anticipated demands instead of being forced to react to them. This will ultimately be more efficient and cost-effective.

Shane Gardner says, “When I was a new Deputy, Sheriff Lucas rode with me for an entire graveyard shift. It was impactful and memorable. I plan to spend 1 shift each month rotating through the branches. This will help me to personally get to know our most valuable commodity (our staff), but it will also expose me to the hurdles they face to efficiently perform their duties. I believe a leader’s role is to remove hurdles for their staff to efficiently and effectively accomplish the mission! Sheriff Lucas has been a strong, consistent leader in this community as well as the agency. When I joined the Substance Abuse Advisory Board in 2005 I saw the Sheriff was already an advocate for recovery programs in our community and a regular guest speaker at the Recovery Forum. I will focus on a culture of fairness, with consistency, openness and transparency, with meaningful communication, and an emphasis on being ‘one-team’, internally and externally!”

Chuck Atkins responded, “One of the first things I’m going to do is change the reporting structure for the Internal Affairs Unit. It currently reports to a civilian risk manager and that person reports to the Support Branch Chief. I’m going to immediately have the IA unit report directly to the Undersheriff. We will then do a comprehensive review of how we conduct internal investigations with the goal of being more accountable, not only to our citizens but also to our employees.”

Atkins would also “expand the use of online reporting and other technologies… spend time with our corrections staff and support staff to understand the challenges they face… meet with line-level employees to find out what is working and what is not working for their particular unit…”

It was at this point that Atkins brought up the controversial “PredPol’s predictive policing software or other similar software,” advocated by one of his opponents and vowed not to seek it. “We do not need a computer in California making dubious predictions about where crimes are going to occur in Clark County Washington,” Atkins said. “Citizens routinely reject photo-radar because it takes the human relationship out of one of the most personal of all human interactions; namely the government exercising authority over its citizens.”

Atkins concludes, “every employee in the Sheriff’s Office will understand that our primary role is public safety and all of our efforts, every day, should be focused on that goal.”

PUBLIC PERCEPTION

Perception goes a long way in the public’s willingness to cooperate with law enforcement. Too many fear the Police today and unfortunately, there is an element of our society quick to capitalize on that fear. An extreme example was seen in a widely circulated photograph from a manhunt for a very dangerous criminal that appears to be of an innocent civilian staring down the barrel of a Police Assault Rifle.

More common is officers seen interviewing or approaching people with their hand kept on their service weapon as if ready to draw. With that in mind, each candidate was asked how they would work to alleviate public fears and maintain Officer Safety, who like the rest of us, wish to go home to their families after a shift too.

“It is a simple fact that police officers every year are shot and killed on routine traffic stops. The practice of having your hand on your weapon, but not drawing it, is almost universally taught at every police academy in the country” Chuck Atkins reminds us.

DSC01382cHe continued, “It’s understandable that law-abiding citizens may be offended by an officer who is exercising due caution over his or her safety. Veteran officers often develop a keen sense of when to be over cautious and when to be more informal. This is why training and professional development of law enforcement officers is so important. One of my key stances for this campaign is professional service with accountability.”

John Graser’s view is “I think this is an education problem. Citizens need to understand why Deputies do that. If we have greater inter-action with the citizens, we can explain why, from an officer safety standpoint, they approach a vehicle like that. I believe once the public has that understanding, their concerns will be alleviated. The Deputies could also simply explain that individually to the citizens at the time they’re pulled over if they sense any of those concerns or apprehensions.”

Ed Owens said, “We cannot compromise officer safety and lowering their safety can easily result in the officer being hurt or the citizen,” adding “In my years as an officer and deputy, not every stop or even most of them involved my hand on my service weapon when I approached.” Owens readily admits “there are times when this is appropriate and absolutely necessary.” He believes “being more open with the public, inviting them in and showing them who we are, what we do and how we do things” would help.

He sees it as “a perception issue, on both sides… law enforcement developing an us vs them mentality over time, which influences how law enforcement interacts with the public.” Citing “stagnant leadership” and the need of “leadership changes that result in a reformation of focus, and keeps ideas fresh,” Owens says he would bring a “style of leadership to empower those who work for me, to strengthen them and ensure they feel appreciated, respected, take care of their welfare, health, safety and morale,” much like that if a First Sergeant in the Military.

Shane Gardner sees it as a matter of “Trust and education.” I believe the more transparent we are, and the more familiar we become with our community in non-emergent moments, our community will better understand the challenges we face,” he said. “As our Deputies earn the trust of the whole community (through education, involvement, and personal connections) they will understand the tactics we are trained to use to react to the unknown.”

Gardner was the only one to say how we unwittingly teach small children to fear the Police. “Unfortunately we condition our children from a young age to fear the police. I was going to a school to give a presentation a couple of months ago. As I entered the courtyard a mother told her young child ‘See, I told you you were going to get in trouble for playing in that planter’ he recounted.

He believes, “When our community considers us friends and guardians, they will more quickly forgive us for our training and tactics because we in turn will revert back to a less aggressive posture once the threat is diminished!”

POLICE OR SPECIAL FORCES?

We are increasingly seeing outcries on social media of Police becoming more and more “Militarized” with their increased use of equipment bearing a resemblance more to tactical combat equipment. Asked if this is necessary, John Graser replied, “There’s actually a good reason for that. It distributes the weight of all the equipment they have to carry instead of packing it all on a belt. It cuts down on the issues with lower back problems so many suffer from. It also offers greater ballistic protection. Again, this is an issue of education to the public. I believe once they understand the motivation to wear the tactical vests, they will understand and accept it. Perhaps we should just call them equipment vests instead. I have had citizens express concern about the ‘militarization’ of the police in their appearance, but once I explain the practical value of the vests, they understand. This is an issue of perception and needs to be more fully explained to the public.”

Shane Gardner says, “Our recent switch to outer carry vests is not about intimidation, it’s about comfort, and utility. For years we have had to carry all of our gear on our hips, and being a larger guy myself, squeezing into ever shrinking cars with more and more electronics and equipment. Now that we have the ability to carry equipment on our removable vests, we are more comfortable while writing reports at the precinct, and in the car.”

He continued, “We do not have the staffing to have double units. This means that each Deputy has to be prepared to handle anything that might be thrown at them. I will admit that it often looks like we are ready for the worst, but I will also say that anyone who knows me and has seen me in uniform knows a smile is disarming, and comforting.”

Ed Owens brought up his support for the existence of the SWAT team that “provides a very specialized resource needed to handle a wide range of situations that require specialized training and equipment, including tactical equipment.”

Unlike the previous two, he says “I prefer the traditional look and appearance of a uniform with a ballistic vest under the uniform. Tactical gear has a place in law enforcement, but it is for tactical operations. In general, I believe a uniform is better when interacting with the public.”

Also regarding SWAT teams, Chuck Atkins answered, “The ‘special forces’ look in reality is a pair of pants, shirt, ballistic outer vest, and a helmet. There is no other ‘look’ that is available. The weapons carried by our SWAT teams include standard sidearms and rifles. Yes they are black, and may be scary to some people, but they are nothing more than a handgun and a rifle. There are a variety of special-purpose vehicles in the SWAT fleet. They are not tanks, in fact they have no guns whatsoever attached to them. They are armored because they are often intentionally placed directly in the line of fire. This is to allow our SWAT officers to be in close proximity of an armed individual, to allow for the vehicle to take fire while rescuing a downed officer or civilian, and to provide a means to transport an entire team while providing protection to them. The answer is yes. The SWAT equipment we have is needed and it has proven its usefulness repeatedly.”

PART THREE

4 Comments to “The Candidates for Clark County Sheriff, Part Two”

  1. For me personally, I would think you could accomplish much the same thing as this predictive policing by “profiling,” but that is illegal.

    Then too, what are the odds of just shifting crime outside the little box predicted?

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  2. One of the fears with predictive policing is that police officers will use it as justification to stop and contact racial minorities who happen to be in the “predicted crime box.” I’d much rather have an officer who is well versed in the constitution, criminal law, and the requirements of reasonable suspicion/probable cause who can use his or her human judgement to initiate contact with a citizen. Imagine someone who is lawfully engaging in open-carry of a firearm who just happens to walk through a “predicted crime box.” But ultimately, whether we use predictive policing or not, the individual officer is responsible for exercising proper judgement.

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  3. 1. “Militarized” police … I think the issue is less about the “looks” as being about “standard procedure.” Some departments have started using SWAT (-like) teams to deliver summons. They use a knock once, then break down the door in 5 seconds method. This is hardly necessary for _EVERY_ summon service. Yes, search warrants for a drug house (where drugs might be flushed) and dealing with other very high risk suspects might require this type of approach … but the statistics show that nationwide in 1981 there were about 3000 “no-knock warrants” — and in 2005, there were more that 50,000 such warrants. Raids that lead to innocent people getting killed … in a recent year 40 **bystanders** were killed by police officers. It is also not uncommon for the police to launch an attack at the wrong address.

    This is wrong. I hope that the Clark County Sheriff is able to apply some common sense to this issue.

    2. Public access to police records. I have used SpotCrime.com and CrimeReports.com to identify and review reported crimes in the vicinity of my home. These reports tend to be “terse” and have little detail. For example summarized as “other” the detail page simply says “suspicious” … while the specific address of the report is partially masked, the Google map (provided in the report) often shows the “street view” of the involved property. When I’ve attempted to run down the more complete police report (when a “shooting” occurred within a few blocks) I was stymied by there being no details available online from the Sheriff’s office. (I’m located in a residential area in the county, not within any city.) It seems like the “police blotter” should be more accessible to citizen inquiry. Indeed, years ago, (in a land far far away), the local paper gave a rather more complete “police blotter” (“…reported bag of groceries stolen from open trunk of car while carrying another bag into the house…”) I don’t understand why more complete summary reports aren’t made available. I also note that the reports are sometimes misleading … it seems that Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital appears to be the location of a serious number of assaults and other physical attacks … though l suspect that the address is for their emergency room, rather than for the actual incident.

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