Two-term Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich came face to face with 2014 election challenger Douglas Orr Wednesday night, going back and forth on criminal justice reform, the need for a new jail, aerial surveillance, marijuana, body cameras, consolidation and other issues.
“Leadership is moving this community forward,” Knezovich told an audience of about 150 people in Council Chambers at City Hall in an event sponsored by the 6th Legislative District Democrats.
Orr’s view: “Leadership is not about rank. Leadership is about influence.”
He challenged Knezovich to another 30 debates leading up to the election.
Both Knezovich and Orr are Republicans. Orr is currently a Spokane police detective investigating sex crimes.
Orr took shots at Knezovich for being in charge while property crimes are high and major issues remain unresolved. He said the county does not need a new $200 million jail, but he supports alternatives to incarceration and construction of a community corrections center to house those programs.
Orr criticized the sheriff for supporting a 0.2 percent increase in the sales tax for criminal justice.
“A sheriff can’t raise your taxes,” Knezovich said, referring to the requirement for voter approval for a sales tax increase.
The sheriff warned that problems the county is facing stemmed from years of inaction and a lack of planning. He said Geiger Corrections Center is substandard and must be replaced, and the existing jail needs renovation.
The sheriff said his biggest challenge in the eight years he’s held office is a lack of adequate funding. He called for restoring the 27 deputy positions lost since the recent recession.
A voter-approved sales tax in 2008 for a new radio communications system, which is set to go online next month, will expire in 2018, Knezovich said. Without that money, the county will continue to fall behind on public safety, he said.
The sheriff called for greater consolidation to save money.
Orr criticized the sheriff for having two public information officers, but Knezovich said one of those jobs involves outreach to the community to find out who is committing crimes and how to arrest them.
Orr also said the sheriff should not have his picture on billboards urging citizens to report crimes via Crime Check.
Both candidates expressed skepticism about the wisdom of legalized marijuana. Orr said it will make Washington an export state. Knezovich said legal marijuana will create a dubious tourist attraction and won’t reduce the jail population.
They also agreed on the need for deputies to wear body cameras and for strong citizen oversight in cases of wrongdoing.
Drones could aid law enforcement, both candidates said. Orr called for legislation to protect privacy if drones are launched, and Knezovich said they would be useful in situations such as searches or wildfires.