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Snohomish County Sheriff Fortney responds to criticism of talks on race

A Snohomish County Sheriff's Office vehicle. (Photo courtesy of snocosheriff/Twitter)

A group of Black activists in Snohomish County have partnered with the sheriff’s office to start more talks between the community and law enforcement. However, the talks have been criticized by other activists who don’t think they should be working with the police.

Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to provide the law enforcement angle to this story.

“We’ve been at this, I would say, talking with this community group for months now,” he said. “It only came to light recently because of a council meeting and the funding request, but the talks have been going on for quite a while. There was an article in the Herald today, and one of the interesting comments from one of the members had actually said, you could cut the tension with a knife in the first meeting, and I remember that.”

“It was up here in my office, and had been scheduled for 90 minutes. It ends up going three hours, and it was tense at first because this isn’t your typical group that would get together and talk, especially with everything that’s going on in our nation. But, man, at the end of the three hours, I think we kind of hit it off,” Fortney continued.

That’s not to say there won’t be disagreements along the way, he clarified. He also said he finds that when you get people together and talk things out, “you have more in common than not.”

“And that’s all that this is, talking with the community, and I love it,” he said. “It’s been great.”

The talks first became public when Fortney introduced it at a public meeting after the Snohomish County Council asked for social justice proposals to consider funding in the 2021 budget, reports the Everett Herald.

While Fortney recognizes he doesn’t have all the answers and that talking won’t solve all the problems in the United States, or even just in Snohomish County, it is a place to start.

“I understand that there are activists in the community that say, ‘no, the time for talking is over,’ or ‘we’ve talked long enough,'” he said. “But you always gotta start there, and that’s what we did.”

The initiative is called “Cops and Barbers,” and Fortney views it as a good thing for the community, calling it a “conversation starter.”

“The funny thing is, like I said, this became public because of a council meeting and a request for funding,” he said. “We were all in with this anyway. We were doing this and working on this for months. Whether the council chooses to fund this on Tuesday or not, that’s up to them. … We think, as part of our community — and I include law enforcement, we’re part of the community — we think this is a great idea and we’re moving forward whether it gets funded or not.”

There is more of a spotlight on it now, he admits, but one of the first things this group said was they didn’t want it to just be a photo op, and didn’t really want it to be public.

“I’ve respected that,” Fortney said. “The only reason it did is because, like I said, the council meeting. I mean, I had their permission ahead of time to do that or I wouldn’t have talked about it. I wouldn’t have pushed it forward if they didn’t want to. … Is it going to be scrutinized by the public? Yeah, but I think this is the right thing to do. I’ve never said this is a solution to race relations in the United States of America. I said this is a conversation starter, and we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Fortney weighs in on King County’s vote to appoint the sheriff

King County is moving toward allowing the county executive and county council to appoint and supervise the sheriff following a recent charter amendment vote. When sheriff-elect Ed Troyer was on the Jason Rantz Show from Pierce County, he said that this was a bad move. Current King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht says it’s a bad move.

King County Sheriff: Charter amendment ‘scariest piece of legislation’ she’s seen

Fortney agrees with his counterparts and said it’s “horrible.”

“I can’t believe that citizens are actually voting to give up more of their rights to have a say in who is in elected office,” he said. “I mean, that is the foundation of our republic, Jason, and I think it’s so critical for elected sheriffs in Washington state because it’s a great balance.”

Police chiefs are appointed, he added, and they serve “with the will of the mayor.” There’s value in that, Fortney said, and value in that hiring process.

“But there’s also value in the other half of law enforcement, the 39 sheriffs across Washington state to be an elected official,” he added. “And every four years the citizens get to decide if you’re doing a good job or not. I mean, that goes to the foundation of our system. So I was disappointed in that vote, but that’s, man, I don’t know what else to say. That’s King County for you.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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