SEQUIM — One of the two law enforcement officers vying for the job of Clallam County Sheriff emphasized a need for wraparound services while the other focused on staffing during a candidate forum hosted by Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Both candidates in the Nov. 8 general election agreed that police reform legislation hampers law enforcement while speaking at the chamber luncheon on Tuesday.
Brian King, 46, chief criminal deputy for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Department, and Marc Titterness, 45, who recently joined the Port Townsend Police Department as patrol officer after having worked with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, answered questions about their priorities and challenges.
King and Titterness, both Port Angeles residents, are vying for the position now held by Bill Benedict, who is not seeking a fifth term.
Candidate filing week continues through today. If more file for the position, then that race will become a contest from which all but two candidates would be culled in the top-two primary race on Aug. 2.
King said one of his priorities is expanding the Clallam County jail and to “provide services we know we need to help break the cycle” of incarceration.
“We need to have wraparound services,” King said. “Many of the people in jail are addicted to drugs and committing crimes because of their addiction.”
King said COVID-19 brought jail numbers down to 40 inmates for safety reasons, but they’ve since returned to 100-inmate capacity.
However, COVID infections recently sidelined a few deputies at the same time there were 10 people in mental health crises, he said.
One option for potential assistance could be bringing in Peninsula Behavioral Health officials to help “provide some clarity to folks who need the help,” King said.
Titterness said the most important priority is “getting back to the basics” by recruiting and retaining a full staff.
“The jail has been planned for expansion, phase 2, for almost 20 years,” he said. “We’re past the point of being able to wait for a new jail. We have to effectively manage the offenders we have in our community.”
Titterness said options are needed now and the plan does not add more jail beds, so the management team needs to determine if detainees will stay local or be sent elsewhere for holding.
Both candidates highlighted concerns about police reform legislation they say inhibits law enforcement efforts across the state.
With a rise in vehicle thefts, Titterness said, those reforms are “tying our hands.”
He said, “A lot of the problems have to do with policies of the jail refusing to book criminals. Up until last month while on patrol in Clallam County, the most common phrase we heard was ‘jail won’t accept.’
“That’s unacceptable to me. If someone is out there breaking the law, hurting our citizens, there has to be consequences for their actions.”
King said legislators need to “reverse some of the police reforms that have hamstrung some of our officers.”
He added, “The more the Legislature takes away from us, the tougher our community has to be. We have to adapt, preserve the public safety of this county.”
Titterness said recent law changes inhibit law enforcement’s ability to pursue vehicles minus some exceptions such as an imminent threat, and to detain someone for investigative purposes or for involuntary treatment for a mental health crisis.
He said the law changed, preventing them from using force to take someone to the hospital.
“Obviously, we never want to use force unless we have to, but there are times when it’s absolutely necessary,” Titterness said.
King said the reform “upended how we do policing” and took away Terry stops that allow them to briefly detain a suspect while they conduct an investigation with probable cause.
“There are unintended consequences that affect our ability to detain people in crisis who need to go to the hospital,” King said. “It needs to be overturned, and we need to go back to sensible policing.”
Both agreed that reaching out and collaborating more with legislators is needed.
Titterness said the police reform has led some law enforcement to leave the Olympic Peninsula.
“(Staffing) is a problem everywhere,” he said.
“We’ve got great-paying jobs in the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office with great benefits. People have to know our jobs exist, and we have to actively recruit in the community.
“We can’t just wait for applications to come to us.”
Issues such as fewer traffic patrols, Titterness said, are due to not having enough people.
“Until we hire more people and get more deputies, that’s going to continue being a problem,” he said.
King said after this week the office will be two deputies away from full staff with more expected from the academy.
“Recruiting and retention is a real issue for us; it’s a United States issue,” he said.
King, a Forks High School graduate, has been in law enforcement on the North Olympic Peninsula for 27 years. He started working in the Forks Police Department and eventually joined the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office in 2001.
He’s been chief criminal deputy since 2015.
King told luncheon participants that the Chamber of Commerce meant a lot to him, as his grandparents Bill and Nina Fatherson, long-time Sequim Food Bank director (Nina) and advocates, were named Citizens of the Year.
“Their service has driven me to run for office,” he said.
Titterness, a Kansas native, served with the Kansas Department of Corrections from 2006-2007 and as a deputy for the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office in Kansas from 2007-2011 before moving to Sequim.
“We lived in an urban area and wanted to relocate to a smaller town; Clallam County is what we wanted for our family and to raise our kids,” he said.
Titterness served as Clallam County Sheriff’s Office corrections officer from 2011-2016 and a Clallam County sheriff’s deputy from 2016 until recently, when he took a job with Port Townsend Police Department.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].