If those attending a debate Friday morning between Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich and his opponent Doug Orr expected fireworks, they were disappointed.
The event hosted by the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce moved tepidly through campaign issues such as civilian oversight, staffing levels and officer-involved shootings, without a single rebuttal from either candidate.
Moderator Ty Barbery asked what the two candidates would do to lower the number of officer-involved shootings.
Knezovich said providing communication training for deputies is key.
“You have to learn how to talk to people so you can talk them down without using force,” he said, citing the department’s extensive training programs.
Orr, a Spokane police detective, said there comes a point where one has to ask how many shootings are too many.
“Somewhere along the line we became law enforcement officers,” he said. “I would like to go back to the time when we were peace officers.”
He added that the department needs civilian oversight and must work harder to regain the trust of the community.
“After the incidents with Otto Zehm and Pastor Creach, it’s going to be a challenge,” said Orr, referring to two high-profile incidents involving law enforcement officers. Zehm died after a violent encounter with Spokane police officers, while Creach was killed by a sheriff’s deputy.
Knezovich said the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has lost 34 positions since he took office in 2006.
“Even if we get five new positions a year, it will take seven years to make up for that loss,” he said. He has proposed a tax increase to pay for more deputies, a strategy that has not gained support from county commissioners.
Orr said he wouldn’t ask for a tax increase, but would instead rely on expected retirements to reconstitute the force. He said 40 deputies at the high end of the pay scale are ready to retire, which will free up money to hire more entry-level deputies.
“We’d get more officers for less money,” Orr said.
Knezovich and Orr disagree on whether the Spokane Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office should be consolidated into a metro police force.
“A growing share of the population does not believe in consolidating police power,” Orr said, “and I’m one of those people.”
Knezovich said the two departments already share a lot of resources – like the Public Safety Building – and in many ways already are consolidated.
“Spokane is designed to go metro,” Knezovich said. “You are already consolidated. The only thing we don’t share is leadership.”
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