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Badge discussion

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | October 31, 2022 5:09 PM

GRANT COUNTY - With the general election a week away, the Columbia Basin Herald submitted some follow-up questions to candidates running for office in Grant and Adams counties.

Grant County Sheriff’s Office candidates Joey Kriete and Joe Harris each received the same questions. Harris and Kriete are running to replace Tom Jones, who resigned as sheriff in July.

Their answers are below and have been slightly edited for clarity and to fit the available space. The Herald appreciates the candidates’ taking the time to answer the questions.

Q: You’ve been on the campaign trail over the summer. Have you heard anything in that time that changed your mind on the most important issues facing the sheriff’s office?

Kriete: What I continuously heard throughout my campaign is that people in Grant County support law enforcement. Citizens are aligned with me in wanting safe staffing levels for patrol deputies and corrections deputies at the Sheriff’s Office.

Harris: Actually, I heard a lot of things that opened my eyes; I learned a lot. One of my favorite parts of this process has been just that, going out and meeting the residents of our county where they live. I did not realize just how upset people are over lack of service/response. I did not realize just how bad the theft issues have become and how helpless people feel about it. I learned that the majority of the county wants something different and doesn't feel like they are being adequately served now.

None of what I heard changed my mind about my stances, it reinforced my desire to run and make positive changes to the culture of our Sheriff's Office. Leadership starts at the top and the culture that has been allowed to take hold promotes lackluster service. We have a ton of great employees that truly desire to serve our county; the leadership does not foster an environment that allows that. It's time for a fresh start with new perspectives to energize the Office and put customer service back into what we do.

As I have laid out since I began campaigning back in February, the issues facing the county did not happen overnight. What is needed is a cultural change. The opening of regional precincts dedicated to serving the outlying areas of the county will go a long way to reducing response times, increasing investigative time, reducing overall costs, and increasing relationships between residents and the Office. Aggressively targeting theft, building strong cases, and working with the Prosecutor's Office, Public Defense and judges will increase efficiency. Reallocating our resources, like moving the traffic deputies to patrol crews, will expand our ability to impact traffic safety (more DUI enforcement and fewer fatalities).

Fixing the jail is one of my top priorities. This problem is extremely nuanced and will require a creative and collective approach. Pay and benefits need to be addressed. There is no reason our Corrections staff have gone this long without a contract. There is no reason the Work Release/Minimum Security facility cannot be reopened at a reduced capacity. We need to work with the Prosecutor's Office to clear the backlog of pending cases. Most of the people sitting in our jail have been there way too long waiting for trial and should be in prison. We need to bring Work Release back. We need to partner with Grant County Renew and HopeSource, along with other county offices, to bring out creative deferral programs to do intervention and prevention work.

Q: How do you plan to attract and retain qualified employees? It’s a challenge to find and retain employees in any line of work these days.

Harris: Recruitment/retention is probably the most important topic to cover. There are tons of academic and practical studies that show organizational culture is the biggest factor in attracting and keeping the right people. Sure money is important but it is not the most important. We need to hire based upon the core values we want to emulate. We need to target people who share those values and have a sincere desire to serve. It is all about the character of the individual and how they will work with the team.

That said, we need to realize we are not recruiting experts. We need to hire an outside firm with expertise in this area. An outsider to come in, evaluate the issues, and help us develop a program to target the right person. We need to tailor our program in a way that attracts the right person and rewards our core values while placing accountability on violating them. In law enforcement, it costs between 1.5 and 2 times the annual salary of an employee to replace them. Get it right the first time and we won't have so much turnover and we will save money. This cannot be effectively done by people with no experience in recruiting. Grant County Renew (formerly Grant Integrated Services) is a perfect example of how beneficial this process is.

Kriete: Our biggest challenge is providing adequate pay. Recruiting quality employees is more difficult when other agencies are offering higher wages and incentives such as sign-on bonuses that we currently can’t match.

We have high standards at the Sheriff’s Office and we won’t lower our standards in order to fill staffing gaps. What we need to do is provide a competitive compensation package, especially for our corrections deputies. We have 13 fewer corrections deputies than we should. Jail shifts are consistently short-staffed. We need to add staff so we can return to jailing people with outstanding warrants or who commit lower-level crimes. To do that, the pay for corrections deputies must be more than that of someone who works at a big box store. Corrections deputies are law enforcement professionals whose roles include serving on the front line of providing inmates with counseling, mental health, medical, and substance abuse care. Corrections deputies provide valuable services and deserve to be paid for being the professionals that they are.

Q: Cooperation between law enforcement agencies has come up a few times lately. How do you plan to support and promote that cooperation?

Kriete: All law enforcement agencies in Grant County share the same mission of keeping communities safe. That mission transcends any jurisdictional boundaries, and all agencies work together. That cooperation happens every day of the year. All agencies share information and resources because that’s what our mission requires. Local police chiefs and law enforcement leaders endorse me because they know that I’ll continue to emphasize the importance of partnerships. Criminals don’t respect lines drawn on a map, so we will continue the strategy of joining forces to defeat those offenders.

Harris: All LE agencies need to work together and be equal partners at the table. The general public does not realize how broken this has become. For years agencies around the county have reached out to the Sheriff's Office for assistance in drug or major crimes cases only to be told, "give us your information and we will take it from here." These agencies have been actively cut out from cooperating on cases they started. There is a reason Moses Lake Police pulled out of the drug task force (INET); it was because of these turf battles. As chief in Mattawa, I experienced this myself on more than one occasion. There needs to be transparency!

The fix is to get all agencies at the table and give them all an equal voice. When INET has update meetings, all agencies need to be represented regardless if they have an officer on the task force or not. We need to rebuild the criminal intelligence unit we had under Sheriff DeTrolio. The intelligence we were able to build by cooperating with patrol, detectives, and corrections around the county is what stamped down our gang problems and impacted the drug trade. Monthly "round table" meetings between the sheriff and chiefs need to be better structured so that information is shared and agency heads can openly discuss/ask for the assistance they need. No one benefits when intelligence is not shared.

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