When the editorial board first endorsed Ozzie Knezovich in 2006, we noted his firm hand as acting sheriff. He promptly fired a deputy who exposed himself to a latte stand worker and a jail supervisor who allegedly lied to cover up inappropriate romantic relationships.
As we said then on the subject of integrity: “Lip service to that value is common; the action Knezovich took is rare and commendable.” Sheriff Knezovich has been that way ever since, and it’s earned him the respect of the community and some enmity in the ranks and among some former Sheriff’s Department leaders.
In the race for sheriff, voters should ask themselves why they would replace someone who has demonstrated strong leadership over a challenger who hasn’t.
Doug Orr is a Spokane Police Department officer with advanced degrees. He is an adjunct professor at Gonzaga who speaks knowledgeably about criminal justice. But citing academic studies is quite different from leading a law enforcement agency.
On the key issues, the candidates are not that far apart. Both embrace the “Blueprint for Reform” that calls for more alternative programs and sentencing strategies to treat the criminal and reduce the recidivism rate. Both say Geiger Correctional Center is unsafe and inadequate.
Before “smart justice” entered the vernacular, Knezovich and former Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard hired consultant David Bennett, whose work helped inform the reformers. Knezovich already has embraced the alternative programs, such as therapeutic courts. He supports their expansion. He agrees with the need for a community corrections center.
But he’s also correct in saying that a perpetually crowded jail limits the system’s ability to protect the public from repeat offenders who reject help.
The sheriff knows that hiring more deputies – the department has lost 34 positions since 2008 – and replacing Geiger would be expensive. The “Blueprint” reforms also require upfront spending. Knezovich says leaders must have the courage to ask voters whether they’d be willing to add two-tenths of 1 percent to the sales tax.
Orr, on the other hand, says the last thing he would do is ask for a tax increase. But finding additional funding from other sources doesn’t seem likely.
Knezovich led the move to bring back Crime Check. He’s increased training, especially in the area of leadership. He has ascended to the presidency of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. He has pushed for legislation that would prevent arbitrators from reversing the punishments of officers when the facts are not in dispute. He is seemingly everywhere – parades, fairs and other civic events – which keeps him in touch with the public and other community leaders.
This is what a leader with integrity looks like. Voters should retain Sheriff Knezovich.
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