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Clark County to take jail from sheriff's control after unanimous council vote

A resolution passed to move control of the Clark County Jail from the sheriff' office. The county council voted to set up a new department to manage jail services.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A resolution to move control of the Clark County Jail away from the sheriff's office passed Tuesday evening. 

The county council voted unanimously to set up a new department to manage jail services. But some key players, namely the candidates running to be the next sheriff say they were totally caught off guard by the move.

The Clark County Jail has had a rough few years, challenged by overcrowding, staffing shortages and COVID requirements.

It's part of the sheriff's office which has struggled to hire enough deputies for the jail and for law enforcement on the street.

RELATED: Clark County deputies will stop responding to low-level calls due to staffing shortage

Clark County councilors voted in a meeting Tuesday evening to take the jail from the sheriff's control by creating a department of jail services. Like many other county departments, it would be overseen by the county manager.

“By moving it to the county managers office it would allow the sheriff's office to focus on law enforcement specifically. In addition is has been proven successful in other larger counties in the state,” said Clark County Manager Kathleen Otto.

Otto said that no sheriff's office employees would lose their jobs in the move and she sees it as a positive for both employees and inmates.

“There may be opportunities for other services to be provided in the jail for the inmates to be sure they're getting what they need so that eventually they can return to the community in a productive manner,” said Otto.

The county manager emphasized that this is just a first step in a long process for something that's been talked about for years.

RELATED: Clark County among jurisdictions keeping an eye on major Washington Supreme Court DUI case

But for the two candidates running to replace retiring Sheriff Chuck Atkins, it's a big step. And one they didn't see coming less than two months before the November election.

They both spoke at the council meeting before the vote to express their concerns.

“I have a lot of concerns as a citizen about the budget impacts and what does this do for public safety. I'm not going to get into all those tonight, but I’m asking the council to postpone the vote and wait until January," said candidate John Horch who currently serves as chief criminal deputy with the sheriff’s office.

“You must have the legal standing or you wouldn't be putting this forward, but you have not consulted the people of Clark County. You are making this decision for reasons I can't understand without giving enough time to hear from the residents,” said candidate Rey Reynolds who currently serves as a corporal with the Vancouver Police Department.

For now the jail remains a part of the sheriff's office. If and when that changes, the county manager said the sheriff will still be involved.

“I have respect for both candidates, I’ve had conversations with both of them and I know that they will partner with us, whoever is elected, in this transition, and they'll still be a key stakeholder in the conversation going forward,” said Otto.

KGW reached out to the sheriff's office on Friday; current Sheriff Chuck Atkins was not available to comment.

Otto said next steps include developing a transition timeline and involving more stakeholders.

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