Sheriff candidates participate in League of Women Voters event

The League of Women Voters of Clark County candidate forums continue this week with three events scheduled in Clark County.

Candidates John Horch and Rey Reynolds face off in candidate forum in advance of Nov. 8 general election

In the eyes of many voters in Clark County, the race for Clark County Sheriff is one of the most anticipated on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.

John Horch, the current chief criminal deputy at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, and Rey Reynolds, a 24-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, advanced from the August primary election. Horch had a slim lead of 1.72 percent (2,248 votes) over Reynolds in the primary.

David Shook, who has spent the last two years of his long law enforcement career at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, was the third candidate at the primary. Shook received 15.96 percent of the vote (20,912 votes). How those voters decide between Horch and Reynolds will obviously go a long way to determining the outcome of the general election.

Shook, who was recently named to lead the executive team of the county’s new Jail Services Department, offered his endorsement to Reynolds after the primary election. The three candidates participated in a candidate forum in May, covered by Clark County Today and hosted by the Clark County Republican Women.

This week, Horch and Reynolds participated in a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County and moderated by Jane Van Dyke. Here is a transcript of the questions asked of the candidates and their responses at this week’s event:

Why do you want to be sheriff? What issues are most important to you? And, what skills and abilities would you bring to the position?

John Horch
John Horch

Horch: I grew up here in Clark County and I joined the sheriff’s office a long time ago, 33 years ago, and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office is my family and Clark County is my home. I don’t like what’s happening here. Through the last few years, we’ve seen crime increase. We’ve seen a lot of issues come up. We’ve seen police officers leave this state over the laws that have happened here. And I decided a few years ago to look into it. And several people came to me and said we think you would be a great candidate. And I started doing the research and I said, ‘you know what, I can’t leave this to anybody.’ After 33 years in the Sheriff’s Office, I’ve done almost every job there. And in my current role, I oversee 120 people. I have an education and Bachelor of Science (Degree) in Organizational Leadership. And I’ve graduated from the FBI Command College and FBI National Academy. This professional experience, I believe, means I’m qualified.

Rey Reynolds
Rey Reynolds

Reynolds: This is an outstanding time for us. I am excited about being your sheriff. Why am I running? I believe after 38 years of service to our community, after 38 years of leadership within our community, recognized by the community, that gives me the authority and also the right to run for sheriff and also the qualifications to do so. Lately, we have seen such horrible crime rising in our city. We have seen laws that are passed that have shackled us, meaning us the police, the law enforcement, to such a degree that your safety has been jeopardized. There is no question right now that you are no longer safe in Clark County the way it used to be. I remember when we could always keep our doors unlocked. Always. I always tell somebody, ‘why would I even worry about locking my door? How am I going to get inside the house?’ It was very important to me that this place stay safe. 

Identify the first three steps you’d like to take to reduce property crime and traffic violations, which seem to be increasing in Clark County, and then identify the real challenges to making those changes happen and explain how you would overcome them?

Reynolds: That is an excellent idea. How many of us have had a time where people are speeding through our neighborhoods, causing dangerous conditions that are absolutely unacceptable? Well, that’s what’s happening right now in our area. Property crime is going through the roof. And, your cars are being taken, your property is being stolen. And it’s happening at a rate that is incredible, all because of a number of reasons, primarily because of the new laws that have been passed. And also because we have not taken the leadership that we need in law enforcement to actually say this is enough. What we need to do about property crime is develop a program that I’ve called targeted enforcement. That means we’re going to look at the criminals that are primarily committing most of the crime, there’s usually a small number of them, and then target those people immediately. And those people we would go after an arrest because they’re the ones that are committing the majority of the crime traffic. Again, the same kind of enforcement needs to be done. Targeted. Why am I saying targeted? Because we have right now, because of the number of officers that have left, the staffing that is going on because of what has occurred here in Clark County. And because of these awful laws, we are losing officers at a rate which is unacceptable. And I will not tolerate it. So, we have to use targeted enforcement because of our low staffing issues. That is how we’re going to have to do the first part. The second part is actually going out there and arresting them. We have to start doing that. I know that sounds harsh to a lot of people, but we need to arrest and hold people accountable for the things that they’re doing. Unless we do it. We will be like Portland.

Horch: Two big things that come up are property crimes and traffic violations. Targeting units, we have those. They are called specialty units. But our problem is with staffing right now. And when we have those special units, and then go out and actually find areas that people are doing property crimes, it’s incredible when they stop one, how that crime in that area is completely gone. That’s one. Special units have to come back. But that’s a staffing issue, which I’ll talk about later. Working with our prosecutors. Years ago, when I started, we had weekly meetings with the Prosecuting Attorney’s office on how to deal with crime in Clark County and who should be prosecuted, as far as how much of it is a diversion? Or should it be a prosecution? We need to get back with the Prosecuting Attorney’s office and prosecute criminals. Bed space is another big issue. When you’re going to arrest people, you have to take them somewhere, even just for one night. We’ve got to be able to book people in the jail. We don’t have the best space right now. The real challenges around all those staffing and bed space issues are, as Mr. Reynolds mentioned, we have police officers leaving the state left and right because of the laws that were passed a year, year and a half ago. Compensation packages for our deputies need to increase, which it just recently has, which is good news. But, I’ve worked tirelessly to fix those laws. And we still need to work on that. Those are two of the main challenges that we’re facing.

What do you see as the pros and cons of transferring oversight of the jail and its staff to the county manager? 

Horch: Well, it’s still very new. As you know, this happened about two weeks ago. And I spoke publicly that I was against having it happen right now when three or four new elected officials come in there. So I don’t know what all the pros and the cons are going to be. That’s going to pan out here. I do know that I am committed to helping this transition go through smoothly. There’s a lot of intertwined. Groups, training, internal affairs, other issues that are intertwined with the Sheriff’s Office and this new Jail Services (Department). So that will be challenges that we have to look at. So in the end, I’m about public safety, what’s best for our employees, what’s best for the inmates. However we can make this as safe for everybody and to serve our public is what I’m for. 

Reynolds: Yes, safety is probably our most important issue. Where do I stand on this issue where the jail was taken from the Sheriff’s Office? Where was this takeover that happened? I stand absolutely, positively against it. It is outrageous that this thing has happened, that we have allowed our vote, your vote, the citizens’ vote, to be taken away and put into a bureaucracy that is now not only expanded, but even more it is not even directly through our county manager. It’s actually underneath her. So now we have a whole nother layer of bureaucracy, which has done nothing to help our safety issue, if anything it’s going to make it worse. I am happy that they did hire a competent young man, Dave shook. I believe right now he is the man for the hour. But it still does not take away that we must do something about letting our vote and our voice be taken away by a bureaucrat.

Specifically, how would you address staffing issues across the Sheriff’s Department, including law enforcement and support staff? 

Reynolds: Staffing is, like you said, one of our critical issues. Because of the way the management has happened right now, our officers do not feel safe staying with the department. They do not feel safe being with the Sheriff’s Office, and they are leaving in droves. That is because of management and also because of what’s happening in our state and our finances. We are paying our officers and our deputies, what 26 percent less than Vancouver Police. Outrageous, that should not be happening. It should not have been allowed to happen. That is a management decision. That is a management problem. Also, we need to make sure that our officers have incentives. Right now we don’t have that incentive. Do you know that Vancouver is offering $10,000 for new newbies to come in and for officers to transfer, it’s $25,000. Why aren’t we doing more to encourage that kind of thing? Again, it’s a management issue. Also lastly … we need to make sure that our officers are good In an environment to work that is not toxic. That’s what we need to do immediately.

Horch: Staffing is the number one priority right now. There are several reasons why this has occurred in Washington state. It’s not just in Clark County, but Washington state. It’s the laws that were passed a year and a half ago that had many people leave this state, police officers, in droves, retired early, and they went to other states also to work. That was one issue that has come up. And I work tirelessly with our legislators. In fact, some of them just spoke here recently about how to change the laws and some of them did get reversed. And we’re seeing that. Number two, officers and our support staff need to be compensated correctly. And we just signed a new three-year deal with the Deputy Sheriff’s Guild. Mr. Reynolds isn’t aware of this, because he’s not involved in the organization, but a great compensation package. And we’ve already given hiring incentives. And we’ve come up to the other regional law enforcement agencies with their pay. The problem is we need to stay on top of that, and three years from now, we can’t go back. And that’s where the Sheriff’s Office and the county commissioners come together. Our support staff needs to be compensated as well. So that’s the last part of that.

Would you support cities and unincorporated areas inside the urban growth boundaries to reduce calls for service to the Sheriff’s Department amid your staffing challenges? Why or why not? 

Horch: I’ve been through three annexations since I’ve been at the Sheriff’s Office, so I’ve seen what they can do, and annexations are inevitable. The city of Vancouver and other cities around here are growing. So that is going to happen. I think it’s that it’s actually a choice of the people to involve their vote on whether they want to be annexed. And how does that look? As far as the Sheriff’s Office goes, that’s where you have to work collaboratively with the County Council, the City Council, the chief of police, to see how the staffing issues would go. If we’re planning out one-to-five years from now. And the annexations are going to happen. We need to look at that and not over hire. The one thing good about annexations is no police officer ever loses their job due to an annexation, that’s in the state law. So I’m not against that. But as long as it’s done fairly. 

Reynolds: We have, within the Sheriff’s Office and also even within the county itself, we have not had a strategic plan set up. We do not have a plan for what’s going to happen two years in advance, three years in advance, five years in advance. We have not had a strategic plan within our area. This is unacceptable. We have to plan for the future and having annexations, we need to plan for that. But right now, we’re just literally flying by the seat of our pants, where we just decided one budget for one year instead of looking ahead. That is a management issue, which we cannot allow to continue. We must have strategic planning. We must have officers or deputies and all of our programs to become the priority, because right now they are not. Am I in favor of some of the annexations? The answer is no. But is it going to happen? Probably. But we need to manage it. And without a strategic plan, we’re going to lose again and again and again.

Could you elaborate on the working experience you have with local and state law enforcement? 

Reynolds: One of the great things about working in this area is I’ve had the experience to be with working with state agencies, working with federal agencies, and even going down for a whole month to the federal academy where we did an entire month of leadership. A month of what it takes to be a detective within the state. It was a fantastic program. It taught me a whole lot about working within the system. And again, I talk about the strategic plan. We could have targeted enforcement. Bringing in all the federal agencies we can bring in state agencies that we can and working locally with all of the people here in Clark County. That has not been happening. And as a result, again, you are not being kept safe. We need to develop a plan where we can have strategic tactical enforcement issues. And that involves our federal brothers and federal sisters. It involves us. It is incumbent upon us as a law enforcement agency to work collaboratively with as many agencies as possible to protect you, the citizens of Clark County.

Horch: I’ve worked my entire career building partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, local, state, federal, and had very good experiences. One thing I will say is that there are current units in Clark County that work with federal and state. The Drug Task Force works with multiple different agencies. The Safe Streets Task Force is a federal task force. So, we do have these task forces already here. So, those are great programs and we support them. I support them. I’ve been a big proponent of the Drug Task Force. Unfortunately, the Vancouver Police Department just pulled out of that. But, we’re going to try to get some others involved in that. I’ve also worked with other agencies around here, Columbia River Mental Health, Open House Ministries, those two also play a role. Law enforcement isn’t just law enforcement agencies, but how we interact and how we build those relationships to handle problems outside of an actual arrest or whatnot. So I’ve enjoyed those relationships, and I’m going to keep working hard towards them.

Let’s talk about current laws that you may believe are unconstitutional. Which laws are they? And would you enforce them? 

Horch: I’ve said this entire campaign, I’m not the sole authority on declaring whether the law is constitutional or not. So there are some laws passed in this state and probably other states that I don’t agree with. And you look at them, and when there’s a controversial law, let’s just use a gun law in this state. There could be constitutional issues. There is a way to go about using some discernment and talking with our Prosecuting Attorney’s office on how we may implement or not do something, but I do not have the authority just to say a law is unconstitutional. I will not do that. I’ve never said that. And I think it’s a very dangerous area to go to. We have three branches of government for that reason. And each branch needs to stay in their lane on that.

Reynolds: One of the things we have to remember is that we live in a Constitutional Republic. There are three branches of government. … But right now, where we differ very seriously is there is settled law on the books. Settled law means that kind of law that you and I have to adapt to and enforce. That settled law, just like it says, ‘this is where we want our officers to be.’ And right now, because of this settled law, our officers have to enforce, like Fourth Amendment rights. There’s a law right now that says your officers are the experts in the Constitution. Your officers are the ones who make that decision of what our actions are going to be to satisfy that Constitution … We have the basic rights to basic Constitutional restraints to garner the activities of our officers. In other words, that officer is held to a Constitutional restraint. I cannot violate your Fourth Amendment right. I cannot violate your Fifth Amendment right? And if I do so, I am subject to penalties. And it’s important for you to know that those penalties are serious. And (the) George Floyd (death) tells you that. All of those officers have been arrested for Civil Rights violations. That’s what I will not do.

How have you encouraged more women and minorities to pursue careers including advancement in the department as Sheriff? What additional steps would you take to create and develop a more diverse workforce?

Reynolds: One of the things that I believe that anybody who knows me knows what we’ve been doing is actually reaching out to our minority communities. Through the NAACP, I developed a program where we were actually bringing young people into the system. We were mentoring them. We got them to go into the field and go to college. This is what establishes community here in Clark County. And some of these kids actually went on to college and did some great things. They did some magnificent things. We have kids that are going into our military that we are encouraging. As an officer, as a sheriff, I’m going to encourage all of us to get together and do more for our community. Like when they awarded me the Officer of the Year Award for the state. Why? Because we were bringing people in where we can tell them about the system. When it comes to minority communities, we have not listened to them. And that’s been a problem. Now’s the time to listen to our minority community.

Horch: This is really important to me. I did a research paper on this a few years ago about women in law enforcement and meeting the demographics of your area that you serve. Because, a law enforcement agency should be made up of the demographics of the people that you serve. So when I started a few years ago on the recruitment team, we had 4 percent females that the Clark County Sheriff’s Office had to drop quite a bit. We’re now up to 40 percent. We’ve got some great gals there. They’re part of our recruitment team. And if you go to our website and you look at the recruitment video, you’ll see the mix of people. What I want to say is the college cross-cultural community groups that we have at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, I’m very proud of that. That didn’t used to be like that 20 years ago because our community in Clark County is changing. The demographics are changing and we need to represent those changes. As sheriff, I’m going to continue that. And I’m very proud that we’ve already set that up. 

Talk about how as sheriff you would demonstrate respect for the Constitutional separation of church and state as you interact with others, including staff, prisoners and the public?

Horch: I think it’s pretty clear that we have a separation there. It’s been set. I have my own personal faith views. And anybody wants to ask me about them, I have no problem discussing them, but I don’t bring them into the workplace. If somebody at work were to ask me about them, and I felt it was appropriate, I would say ‘hey, if you want to talk on our off-time, I don’t mind sharing that with you.’ That’s one thing. But, I think it’s very important because you don’t know where people’s comfort levels are. People have different beliefs, and you don’t want to impose on that. And as a supervisor, especially as the sheriff, you’re the number one person at the Sheriff’s Office. They could feel influence or they could feel intimidated if you’re imposing your faith or your beliefs on them. So I’m very careful with that in the workplace.

Reynolds: There’s 10 really important words that we need to know about. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Who wrote that? Madison wrote that, one of the founding fathers of our country, Madison wrote it and also Jefferson wrote and talked about separation of church and state when he wrote that letter to the Danbury Baptist Church. All of these issues, we think, well, they’re the ones that are going to say that there should be no religion within the government. That is not the case at all. As you know, Madison ended up telling us when he became president, he said, ‘hey, let’s have some prayer services. Let’s have some, let’s have fasting.’ He also believed very strongly in allowing certain religious groups. The same thing with Jefferson. He’s the one that actually sent missionaries throughout the country. So, it’s not a complete eradication of our people from government. It is that we need to have neutrality, neutrality is the test. And that’s where our courts are right now. What is neutral about it? 

Closing statements

Reynolds: It’s important for us to realize right now that we’re at a crossroads. It would be nice for us to say that it’s okay for us just to have things the way they are. Leave things normal. Well, we cannot wait any longer. The status quo does not work. If we want to have a safe Clark County, it is incredible and incumbent upon you, the citizens, to put in place people that are going to do what is right to protect you, the citizens. There are many things where we talk about experience. But one of the things that makes me very excited. You see here (holding up a document). This is all the things that John has. And it shows a small number that I have. I was about to go, ‘that doesn’t make sense?’ What fits in this space? I’ll tell you what fits in that space. People, behind you, there is one of those people that I helped get off the street. An outstanding young man. And this is what makes us great. And that’s what you will have as your sheriff. 

Horch: There’s definitely a difference between the candidates up here. I’m going to name three differences and I want you to think about those/ One, is experience does play an important part. I’ve been at the Sheriff’s Office for 33 years. I have a full understanding and knowledge of how it works and how our government operates. I understand the landscape and the pitfalls of it. I’m not the captain of the ship right now. I don’t set policy right now. And I’m not really happy with some of the directions that we’ve been going. That’s why I’m running for sheriff. Experience does matter. There’s also a difference on how we view the laws and what’s constitutional and what’s unconstitutional. And I believe that it’s not the role of the sheriff to determine whether laws are constitutional or unconstitutional and whether you will enforce them or not. I think that’s a dangerous area to go into. Three, the community supports me. I have numerous endorsements from Republicans, Democrats, Independents, business associations, and all the sheriffs of Southwest Washington have endorsed me. And that’s where I have a lot of community support. 

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