By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Both of the men who want to be Island County sheriff come from within the department, but they are very different candidates with very different perspectives on many issues.
Those differences have made for lively debates and a little bit of controversy over the last few months, as well as a narrow margin in the primary election.
Deputy Lane Campbell has spent decades on the road, interacting directly with citizens.
Campbell has positioned himself as an agent of change in the sheriff’s office, which he said is much needed.
Chief Criminal Deputy Rick Felici has been the second in command of the law enforcement section of the office for the last three years.
Felici worked his way up from patrol deputy during a 24-year career in the office and has years of experience in management.
Both menare running as Republicans. Mark Brown, the current sheriff, is not seeking reelection.
Campbell and Felici agree that the biggest problems facing law enforcement are mental health issues, opioids abuse and homelessness.
Felici said modern law enforcement needs to take a holistic approach and work with other government entities and groups to solve these problems instead of just arresting people in crisis.
An example of this, he said, is the county’s opioid outreach program in which a deputy from the sheriff’s office goes out in the community with a public health nurse and an opioid outreach advocate.
Such programs leverage resources from different parts of government and build relationships both in the community and between county offices, Felici said.
“I don’t pretend to have an overnight solution to these problems,” Felici said.
“It’s going to take some time.”
Campbell, on the other hand, is more skeptical of such programs. He said he’s seen criminals take advantage of the drug court in order to get out of jail and continue committing crimes. Such programs can help some some, but people who continue using drugs and breaking laws need to be weeded out and thrown in jail.
“You are not going to be a career criminal and be in drug court if I’m sheriff,” he said.
One of Campbell’s chief complaints about the current administration — which he said includes Felici — is what he describes as a lack of interaction with the community and with employees.
Campbell said citizens don’t even know who’s sheriff.
“People are literally asking me if I’m the current sheriff,” he said.
“That’s a problem.”
Campbell said he will solve that problem by communicating openly and being part of the community in a variety of ways, from public meetings to special events.
Campbell said he and his administration would regularly go on the road with deputies to keep apprised of what’s happening out there and what deputies face.
Felici said the office is far from being broken, but that improvements can be made. He said the office needs to get out of “crisis mode” and become more proactive.
Felici said the office should be going after grants more vigorously. He wants to use social media more to keep in touch with people and inform them of what’s happening.
Felici said experience is important when it comes to management and that he understands the budget limitations the office faces.
Felici said he can make things work more efficiently and decisively if he’s at the helm.
“We need to identify our mission statement,” he said. “Core values should drive our actions.”
Campbell proposes to bring a “K-9 unit” to the department. He said a drug-sniffing dog can be extremely helpful in developing probable cause for searches at a time when cops’ hands are tied when it comes to investigation.
He said the dog could also be used to get drugs out of schools and jails.
Felici said getting a dog in the department would not be a top priority for him.
He said there’s a reason many departments have stopped working with dogs. They are not that effective, he said, and come with a lot of liability.
Both men agree that a lack of staffing is a big problem for the department.
Like many other departments across the state, the sheriff’s office has trouble attracting candidates and keeping deputies.
Campbell said it’s all about money.
One deputy, he said, just recently left to go to the Oak Harbor Police Department because the city pays significantly more.
The only way to solve the problem, Campbell said, is to increase deputies’ pay.
Felici agreed that it is a problem but said that the department should also look at other ways to make the job more appealing.
Felici suggested that the sheriff could negotiate with the deputies’ union to change the policy under which new employees get the worst shifts.
Felici and Campbell both said they don’t plan on making big changes in staffing the minute they walk in.
Campbell said he hasn’t made any promises to anyone about positions in his administration. He said former undersheriff Kelly Mauck will not be part of his administration, contrary to rumors.
Felici said he talked with Evan Tingstad, a retired lieutenant with the department, about having a role in his administration, but Tingstad hasn’t made a commitment.
Both candidates tout a list of endorsements. Among the most prominent is Sheriff Brown, who endorsed Felici.
Brown said Felici has a lot of integrity, a lot of respect among his peers and understands how county government works.
Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson endorsed Campbell.
Johnson said Campbell has fresh ideas when it comes to investigating drug crimes.
She said he’s someone who will push hard for results and be a strong advocate for citizens.
“Lane has been in direct contact with the public throughout his career,” Johnson said.
“I am interested in seeing what he can accomplish utilizing his community policing approach.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.