PORT TOWNSEND — A debate between incumbent Jefferson County Sheriff Joe Nole and Detective Art Frank focused on a wide range of issues including the department’s ability to respond to active shooter events, the accreditation process and retention rates.
The two Democrats faced off at a Port Townsend Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday. They are on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Frank has worked in public service for over 40 years and has lived in Jefferson County for 10 years and served in Jefferson County Sheriff’s department for the last seven years. He was undersheriff under Dave Stanko when Nole was elected, and Nole demoted him to patrol deputy in 2019.
Nole has worked in law enforcement for almost 40 years and lived in Jefferson County for just as long and served as Jefferson County Sheriff for the last three years.
Frank opened the debate by comparing the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to the Uvalde, Texas, law enforcement.
“Sadly, JCSO is less prepared than Uvalde,” Frank said. “JCSO, like Uvalde, lacks a clear plan for active shooter response.
“County policy requires that we engage in crisis training with other first responders and schools and other likely attack targets. For over four years, JCSO has failed to follow this policy and do the planning. Our deputies are under-trained and under-equipped. This is unacceptable and dangerous, and I know this because I work there.”
Frank also said that Nole had refused to meet with him when he brought up operational concerns and that he had failed to get the department nationally accredited.
Nole said Frank’s statements were false.
“Contrary to misinformation being presented as fact by my opponent, the JCSO responds to all calls for service and is trained and prepared to respond to an active shooter incident, regardless of where it occurs,” Nole said.
“In reference to Uvalde, I can assure you that sheriff’s deputies would not be waiting outside for a supervisor to show up. We would go to the sound of shooting and take action,” Nole said.
Nole said he had the support of the entire JCSO, minus Frank, and believes this is because members of the department have worked with both him and Frank and do not wish to be micromanaged.
“The reason I have the support and the endorsement of the JSCO is that they have worked with Art and they have worked for Art, and they know what he has to offer. They don’t want to be micromanaged,” Nole said.
Frank believes the deputies are comfortable with the way things are whereas he is suggesting change.
“I think that they are very comfortable,” Frank said. “I think as a line-level officer, especially given the amount of impact of the recent law enforcement reform, I think the status quo is really appealing.
“I have heard, ‘We don’t want to work with Art because he is going to want to change things.’ Well, I am. So I think it’s just an appreciation for the status quo.”
Like many industries, the JCSO has had issues with retention rates, especially after the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nole said one of the biggest hurdles for JCSO is the retention pay and signing bonuses offered in other counties that JCSO cannot afford.
“We’re working with the county right now to generate some incentive bonuses to hire people,”Nole said.
“Retention pay has become the new thing. I think it should be illegal, but we have neighboring agencies like Clallam County and Kitsap County that are offering $25,000 signing bonuses. We’re looking at maybe $10,000. It’s hard to find people to work now,” Nole said.
Frank said more people have left JCSO under Nole’s administration than the prior administration and urged the department to look outside the county “rather than pull from Port Townsend Police Department.”
“I think we have taken five officers from PTPD,” Frank said.
“Our main hiring issue is in the jail, and I think we are going to have to start looking elsewhere because the hiring pool has become so small in Port Townsend.”
Said Nole: “Accreditation is a priority, but it’s not the only priority. … Shortly after I became sheriff, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and caused quite a problem, and the priorities changed.”
Frank argued that other law enforcement entities were able to get accredited throughout the pandemic.
“I took the accreditation process over about a year before the election, and it takes about a year to complete,” Frank said.
“When the sheriff took office, we were 85 percent of the way there,” Frank said.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.