Incumbent Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, left, and challenger Jim McLaughlin appeared for their first question-and-answer forum of the election season Tuesday. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Incumbent Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict, left, and challenger Jim McLaughlin appeared for their first question-and-answer forum of the election season Tuesday. (Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam sheriff, former detective spar in candidate forum

PORT ANGELES — A former law enforcement officer challenging the Clallam County sheriff for his position said Tuesday the agency should hire more deputies and promised to cut expenditures.

Sheriff Bill Benedict said more deputies were not necessary and chided the Vermont native to be more informed about the budget if he wants the incumbent’s job.

Benedict and his former detective, Jim McLaughlin, will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot for the nonpartisan position.

They squared off Tuesday before the Port Angeles Business Association at the group’s weekly breakfast meeting.

It was their first question-and-answer forum for a position that, as a nonpartisan post, is not on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot.

Still, Benedict was dressed in a uniform and a holstered gun he said he himself purchased to conform with state election campaign laws. He passed out campaign literature and campaign contribution envelopes to PABA participants.

For his part McLaughlin, a 2016 Sheriff’s Office retiree and before that a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer for 18 years, handed out “Vote Jim McLaughlin” business cards.

During their 70-minute exchange McLaughlin, a Clallam County jail corrections officer, deputy and detective for 13 years before going into real estate and professional photography, said the agency could be more active in the community.

“The Sheriff’s Office is not living up to its potential right now,” said McLaughlin, who told the group he was an Eagle Scout.

“There’s a lot of upgrades we can do, a lot of things we can do to make ourselves more pronounced in the community.”

The department should be more involved with juveniles and with the state Department of Health and Human Services’ vulnerable adult protective services, McLaughlin said.

Benedict defeated incumbent Sheriff Joe Martin in 2006 by 66 percent to 34 percent before winning two successive four-year terms without opposition.

He touted his creation of a citizen advisory committee with law enforcement advocate Alan Barnard in 2007 that still meets.

He said he achieved and maintained accreditation for the department and the jail his department is responsible for, an accolade he called “the gold standard” of performance.

Benedict said he’s faced “a huge” problem of obtaining qualified applicants for deputy positions, receiving six to 10 applications compared to, for example, 1994 when 250 applicants vied for four positions.

Budgets, he added, are “going way up beyond what inflation is.”

McLaughlin said the criminal justice system “is a system that works” but that “everyone I spoke to, east or west, they want more deputies.”

He said pawnshop owners could be notified of people who have been involved in property crimes that are caused largely by drug users getting money to support their habits.

“That effectively cuts off the stolen property market,” McLaughlin said.

Benedict called the plan “wishful thinking” and said drug users trade stolen goods for drugs and don’t use pawn shops.

McLaughlin also pledged to reduce the department’s $13.4 million operations, task force and jail budget “by at least $25,000 a year.”

He said he would start by getting paid 20 percent less in annual salary, which will amount to $25,000 as of Jan. 1, but did not know what other cuts he would make.

“I will not cut anything out of the sheriff’s budget until I get an opportunity to sit with the bookkeeper,” he said.

“Without having intimate knowledge of why money is spent here and there, I can’t say.”

Benedict said McLaughlin’s offer to cut his salary is “a good example of virtue signalling.”

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines virtue signalling as “the popular modern habit of indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favour for certain political ideas or cultural happenings.”

“That’s fine, you can give up all your salary if you want,” Benedict said.

Benedict said at the county, “they call me Dr. No” for his frugality and that he “usually returns $200,000 to $500,000 a year” to the county in unspent funds.

“I’m proud of what you pay me, and I earn every dime of it,” Benedict said.

McLaughlin said he was rethinking his pledge, described recently in the Forks Forum — also owned by the Peninsula Daily News’ parent company, Sound Publishing, Inc. — to eliminate the Sheriff’s Office boating program to pay for more deputies.

“What I learned, what I’ve been told is, leave the boating program alone,” he said.

McLaughlin said it is “inevitable” that the county will have to appeal to the community to pay for more deputies.

Benedict said the number of sheriff’s deputies in Clallam County is similar to other counties of similar population, explaining later that’s based on deputies per 1,000 of population.

“I don’t think we need more deputies, and we wouldn’t get them if we did away with the boating program,” he said.

“Jim, if you want my job, you need to know what the budget is, and if you are talking about needing new deputies, you really need to know if we need new deputies.

“I suggest you research that.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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