The focus of the meeting was staffing, crime, and updates on things such as body-worn cameras
For Clark County Today
On Thursday (Sept. 14), Clark County Sheriff John Horch held his third town hall since being sworn in this past January. This time, it was held at the Lacamas Lodge in Camas. The focus of the meeting was staffing, crime, and updates on things such as body-worn cameras (BWC). Chief Civil Deputy Duncan Hoss and Chief Enforcement Deputy Brian Kessel spoke alongside Sheriff Horch.
Although the sheriff said staffing was still an issue, he said that’s starting to turn around.
“People want to be in law enforcement again,” he said. While the sheriff’s office is starting to see more applicants, Sheriff Horch pointed out that it may still be some time before the public notices a significant increase, since it takes nearly 18 months per deputy from application to solo patrol deputy.
“Staffing is coming back, I can feel it,” Horch said, adding that the agency has hired many officers who simply aren’t trained yet. Despite this, there are now 70 deputies on patrol, up from 58 at the beginning of the year.
One of the issues with training has been availability in the academy. Once an applicant goes through the entire process and is hired, they then have to wait for a slot to open up in the extremely full academy classes. Very soon, that will no longer be a problem, as Clark County will be the home of the fourth regional academy across the state of Washington. While Sheriff Horch said a start date isn’t finalized, he’s hoping that it will be operational by late fall or early next year. This will help with staffing for not only the Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), but also other agencies in the area.
Chief Hoss spoke on the newly incoming body-worn cameras (BWC), which he said should start arriving next week. The BWCs will have triggers to automatically turn on when a deputy activates his Taser or pulls his firearm from the holster. Additionally, car cameras will also be installed which will automatically turn on when the vehicle’s lights are activated. The car cameras will have a forward-facing camera mounted on the windshield, as well as a camera that can view the cage portion of the vehicle when a suspect is inside. Sheriff Horch explained that these cameras will help significantly with Internal Affairs (IA) investigations, which can take months to go through.
“This isn’t the end-all of IA investigations,” the sheriff said, “but it will certainly help.”
The sheriff also discussed the drug problem in our county and the method with which he plans to combat it.
“As drug trends change,” Sheriff Horch said, “you have to adjust how you fight it.”
A prominent drug around Clark County right now, like most of the country, is fentanyl.
“It used to be $30 per pill. Now it’s only $1 per pill,” he said.
One of the ways CCSO works against drugs in the county is through the Drug Task Force (DTF). DTF used to be a collaborative unit with officers from several agencies, but many had to pull out, including the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), due to staffing levels. Sheriff Horch said that he is hoping to get other agencies to rejoin the unit as staffing levels increase, and he’s been talking to Vancouver Police Chief Jeff Mori about again sending officers to the unit.
“Some people ask why we worry about drugs,” Sheriff Horch said. “They think that if someone wants to do drugs and overdose, let them do it. But it affects more than just that person. It affects children, affects families. I recently heard something at a Columbia River Mental Health board meeting from Dr. Tim Fisher. He said that people who are addicted to fentanyl would go back to heroin if they could, because that’s less addicting. So that shows you how bad this stuff is.”
The sheriff also offered an update on Officer Drew Kennison, who lost a leg after being crushed by a tree while driving back from SWAT training during the major snowstorm in February.
“He’s already back to work with his prosthetic leg,” Horch said. “He’s not on full duty yet, but he will likely get there by the beginning of next year. He’s had such an amazing recovery; he’s an inspiration to us all.”
Horch added that he and the entire agency appreciate the outpouring of support from the community. “We receive cards of support, and we want to thank our community for that.”
The trials for the persons responsible for the murder of Det. Jeremy Brown in July of 2021 have been ongoing, with one defendant, Lani Kraabell, being found guilty in July of 2022 and sentenced to six years for her role, and a second defendant, Abran Raya Leon, sentenced to the maximum 27 years this past August for his role in driving the getaway vehicle. The trial is currently underway for the man who pulled the trigger, Guillermo Raya Leon, who is facing charges of first-degree aggravated murder and a maximum sentence of 25 years. He has claimed self-defense, saying that plain-clothes Detective Brown shot at him first. However, Kraabell testified at trial this week that another person was involved in the murder, alleging that this person handed a gun to Raya Leon and told him that he suspected Brown was an undercover officer, and to not leave any “loose ends.” Trial for the fourth defendant, Misty Raya, is scheduled to begin in October.
Sheriff Horch asked the public to continue to say prayers for deputies, as well as Det. Brown’s widow, Jill Brown.
“So many of these detectives now have to relive what happened as they testify,” he said, adding that it’s hard for all of them. “I heard [Detective Brown’s] voice during trial, and man was that hard.”
Horch added that Jill Brown is strong and has a lot of support but asked that the community continue to pray for her. Sheriff Horch’s wife, Michelle, has been with Jill during the trials to support her, along with many friends, family, and officers.
A question was brought from the audience regarding Larch Corrections Center and whether there’s an update on its announced closure.
“I don’t have an update,” Sheriff Horch said, “and that decision came from the state.” He added that he doesn’t agree with a statement he’s heard from the state that closing the center will not have a negative effect on public safety.
Sheriff Horch said a fourth town hall will take place later this year somewhere in downtown Vancouver, with more information on that to follow.
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