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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sheriff candidates talk Camp Hope, advocate for new jail

Spokane County Sheriff candidates Wade Nelson, on left, and John Nowels debate during the Northwest Passages Pints and Politics Candidate Forum at the Bing Theater.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

From Camp Hope to a potential new jail, two Republicans with more than 20 years of experience at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office fielded questions and made some of their final pitches to voters Thursday night as the race for sheriff nears an end.

Undersheriff John Nowels or former sheriff’s office employee Wade Nelson will assume the top department position when longtime Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich exits in January.

Nelson worked 21 years at the sheriff’s office in various roles, including patrolman, search and rescue and as a sexual assault unit detective.

Nowels worked 24 years at the department in roles that include patrolman, detective and now undersheriff.

Nowels said his resume demonstrates a capable law enforcement executive who has held every rank in the sheriff’s office and led every division, which includes managing the department’s multimillion-dollar budget.

While Nowels has recently taken administrative roles, Nelson said he served as team leader of specialty units during his tenure with the department.

“I know how to lead,” Nelson said.

Both addressed how they would approach Camp Hope, the large homeless encampment off Interstate 90 in East Central Spokane.

If elected, Nowels said he would dismantle the camp and supports the sheriff’s office taking the lead in doing so instead of the Spokane Police Department.

He said his deputies would not “scatter everyone into the wind.” Nowels said his approach would be multifaceted and include providing resources to those who wanted them.

Nowels said he would work with the Empire Health Foundation and state agencies – the camp sits on state land – to speed up their plans because neighbors of the camp do not want to endure more months of crime, which Nowels said has increased in the area.

“That is of primary importance and it is the responsibility of the sheriff to ensure (law) and order,” Nowels said.

Nelson said the sheriff’s office should support the city and “find a way to fix it.”

“I agree crime has increased around that area, but the sheriff’s office should not be the primary agency taking this on,” Nelson said.

Both men advocated for a new county jail to be built and admitted it would be expensive. They said the jail needs to include drug and mental health services.