EVERETT — Jail bookings have taken center stage in the race for Snohomish County’s next sheriff between a patrol sergeant and his boss.
Sgt. Adam Fortney has built his campaign around what he calls the sheriff office’s “catch and release” program, in which some misdemeanor suspects have been turned away from the jail for medical reasons.
“I want patrol officers and deputies to be able to do their jobs,” he said.
Likening the jail to a hospital lobby, Sheriff Ty Trenary argues that more can be done to reduce crime than simply arresting people. He touts embedded social workers, who have teamed up with deputies to help people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness, and a new diversion center that’s used to steer those people toward longer-term services.
The two are competing for a four-year term as the county’s top law enforcement official, presiding over more than 700 employees who patrol the streets, run the county jail and carry out other law enforcement duties. The office is nonpartisan. The sheriff will earn an annual salary of nearly $166,000 starting next year.
Election day is Nov. 5.
The opponents share similar career trajectories, however different their messages. Both have spent the majority of their time on patrol in Snohomish County and both formerly served as union presidents.
Trenary likes to reference the beginnings of his 30-year career as a cop in a rural Pierce County town called Eatonville, with its one red blinking light. He joined Snohomish County in the 90s, where he stayed and climbed through the ranks. In 2008, he started serving as police chief of Stanwood, a contract position with the sheriff’s office. He was appointed county sheriff in 2013, won a special election the next year and a full term in 2015.
Fortney has spent 23 years with the sheriff’s office, all as a uniformed officer, including roles as a K9 handler and with the SWAT team. He currently works as a night shift patrol sergeant.
“I’ve basically grown up in this organization,” he said.
Until he announced his election bid, Fortney served five terms as union president for the Deputy Sheriff’s Association. In that position, Fortney had been a booster for Trenary during the 2014 elections.
But, Fortney said, Trenary’s tenure as sheriff wasn’t what he expected.
“I think police officers are so frustrated with what we’ve been doing,” he said.
While the sheriff comes up with policy, Fortney said he’s the one who implements it in live situations while on patrol. And right now, Fortney claims, the policy isn’t working.
Until recently, some misdemeanor suspects were getting turned away from the jail after the sheriff imposed restrictions designed to prevent some suspects with health issues from being booked for non-violent misdemeanors.
Fortney expressed frustration that whenever deputies caught someone who was, for example, car prowling, that the jail would reject the suspect if he or she was high on heroin.
“I think if somebody breaks into your car and steals your stuff, that person should be held accountable, whether they’re on heroin or not — and that means being booked into Snohomish County Jail,” Fortney said at a roundtable discussion hosted by The Daily Herald in September.
Trenary lifted the medical restrictions in recent months, but said past experience has led the sheriff’s office to be more careful about who gets admitted into the jail given the availability of medical staff.
Between 2010 and 2014, over a dozen people died during their stay in jail.
Since becoming sheriff, Trenary has overseen a number of changes to the medical housing unit, booking procedures and more.
“We had to completely overhaul the way we did business,” Trenary said.
Where Fortney sees regression in how people are booked, Trenary sees progress at the jail.
At the same time, Trenary said, the jail won’t refuse booking a suspect if they’re deemed a threat to the community, sick or not.
Though the booking restrictions are no longer in place, Fortney claims the damage has been done already. According to him, deputies are more hesitant now to bring suspects to the jail for fear that they’ll get turned away.
Trenary argued doing nothing but putting people in jail doesn’t solve the problems at the root of many misdemeanor crimes, such as drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness. “It’s easy to say, I just want that person in handcuffs, until you follow the whole story,” he said.
Fortney, who referred to himself as the “law and order candidate” and the sheriff’s office as a “paramilitary organization,” bristled at his opponent’s suggestion that he just wanted to arrest everybody. He said he’d be supportive of continuing the programs that Trenary helped put in place, and seek to improve upon their successes.
“Hear me loud and clear,” he said. “Never once have I said, or is it a platform of my campaign, to dismantle any of the social services.”
For Fortney, running for sheriff has been an uphill battle. Trenary has raised more than twice as much money, $48,000 to $21,000, according to state campaign finance records.
But Fortney believes his message is getting across to people, particularly rank and file law enforcement officers. He’s endorsed by his own union, as well as unions of police officers in Everett, Edmonds, Arlington and Mountlake Terrace.
Meanwhile, Trenary has been endorsed by the Washington State Troopers Association, county elected officials from both parties and several local mayors.
Ballots will be mailed Oct. 17.
Meet the candidates
Experience: Snohomish County sheriff, 2013 to present; more than 30 years in law enforcement, mostly with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, where he has served as a sergeant, lieutenant and captain.
Experience: More than 20 years with Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, where he currently serves as a sergeant.
Hometown: Lake Stevens