Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Sheriff supports executive’s proposed reforms — to an extent

Adam Fortney said he wants to increase transparency, but he worries about the cost.

EVERETT — When it comes to the county executive’s sweeping proposals for social justice reform, Sheriff Adam Fortney says, for the most part, he’s supportive.

“I think my positions might surprise a lot of people,” he told The Daily Herald on Wednesday.

Last week, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers outlined a far-reaching plan that includes equipping law enforcement officers with body and dashboard cameras, a community police oversight board and cash bail reform.

For now, they’re just ideas. To make them reality, Somers will have to convince the county council to pass new policies, find funding and work with the sheriff and Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell.

Somers’ announcement caught both Fortney and Cornell off guard. They expressed disappointment that they hadn’t been part of any conversations.

Spokesperson Kent Patton said the executive didn’t want to hide the conversation behind closed doors. He said Somers wanted the process and the debate to be public.

Also, with increased scrutiny of police brutality against Black people, Somers felt it was important to offer tangible ideas rather than platitudes, Patton said. Last month, a Minneapolis police officer killed 46-year-old George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly 9 minutes, sparking outrage and protests nationwide — including largely peaceful gatherings in Snohomish County.

Somers told The Herald on Friday that he was compelled to share his plan with the public because recent civil unrest over racial justice issues illustrated the community’s appetite for change.

He acknowledged that he must work with the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office to bring the proposals to fruition.

“I felt the urgent need to really make a statement about my values and my priorities as county executive,” he said. “We know this has got to be a partnership.”

The details of the county executive’s plan, including the cost and timeline, have yet to be worked out. For now, he’s started a new Office of Social Justice, which will be tasked with doing the legwork. That’s made up of three of Somers’ staffers: Human Resources Policy Director Annie Cole, Executive Analyst Alessandra Durham and Community Relations Manager Vanesa Gutierrez.

Meanwhile, in a wide-ranging interview with The Herald, Fortney offered his thoughts on equipping officers and patrol cars with cameras — short of giving the green light.

“I love that transparency, I think it’s fantastic,” Fortney said. “It’s the cost. … I am not willing to take deputy sheriffs off the street in order to obtain body cams. If Executive Somers has a way to pay for them, without cutting deputy sheriffs, of course I’m going to sit down and talk with him about it. I will anyway. I think there’s merit to what he’s proposing.”

Sheriff’s spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe shared with The Herald a “very rough” estimate of what those numbers could be. The startup costs in the first year, including the purchase and installation of equipment, could potentially be $1.7 million, according to the sheriff’s office. Continued annual costs, such as subscriptions for the cameras, could amount to $772,000.

Those numbers don’t include the cost for personnel to maintain the equipment, or the additional staff needed to handle public disclosure requests. Fortney worried about the amount of money it would take to manage the massive volumes of data from the cameras. He said the sheriff’s office would have to hire at least two more people for the increased workload, “but that is just a guess at this point, to be honest.”

The cost estimates would more than double if corrections personnel were equipped with cameras, according to the sheriff’s office.

“I can’t pay for it right now, there is no money in our budget,” he said. “Our budget just got cut last week. We’re doing everything we can to preserve cops on the street right now. So is that something Dave Somers and I can sit down to talk about? Yeah. If he has a great funding idea for it, I’m all ears.”

Meanwhile, a pilot program for body cameras is well underway at the Everett Police Department and has been extended until the end of September. Everett Sgt. Mike Braley said the reaction so far has been “100% positive” and that there are plans to expand the program to every officer who works patrol. Currently, only 10 officers at a time are equipped with body cameras.

As for a community police oversight board, Fortney said he isn’t opposed to that either, so long as he retains the final say in disciplinary actions.

“I need to be able to make my decisions and stand by them, as far as that process goes,” he said.

He said he was open to an outside community group conducting reviews and providing recommendations to the sheriff’s office.

“When we are more transparent, and people figure out what we’re doing, and the why that goes into our decision making — man I look forward to that day, and I hope we can get there. I really do because there’s incredible work being done out there. … It’s honorable work. We’re not perfect. We have a lot to learn. Maybe some things to change. But I think the people need to know, especially now with everything that’s happened, what goes into our decision making.”

Somers said he intends to discuss the cost of the body cameras and the community police oversight board when the county begins budget talks in the fall.

“I would love to have some very concrete accomplishments by the end of the year,” he said.

Somers said he likely will be working on accomplishing the reforms for the remainder of his term, which concludes at the end of 2023.

“Some of these things, frankly, have been talked about for decades and could take years to implement,” Somers said. “This is going to be ongoing, and I’m committed to this for the rest of my administration.”

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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