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Sheriff’s office candidates give answers

Nathan Whalen photo

Snohomish County Sheriff candidates incumbent Adam Fortney and Susanna Johnson during a candidate forum Oct. 16 held at Everett Station.

The county’s highest-profile election this season has the current sheriff looking to be retained, and a former colleague looking to eject him.
Incumbent Adam Fortney and Susanna Johnson have spent nearly 12 months in a campaign battle. Donors have plunged nearly $400,000 into the race, with Johnson receiving more than $199,000 and Fortney receiving more than $186,000 so far.
Fortney was a patrol sergeant with 23 years of experience when he ran for election in 2019 against Sheriff Ty Trenary and won handily with 55% of the vote.
His no-nonsense law-and-order approach and outspoken persona has won him diehard fans and critics alike.
Johnson exited the sheriff’s office just before Fortney took over in 2020. Johnson had risen to be the office’s Bureau Chief of Operations, which oversees patrol, after 30 years of moving up the ranks. (Three of Trenary's bureau chiefs made plans to vacate their positions before Fortney arrived.) She joined the command staff of the Bothell Police Department months later where she is now a deputy chief.
Ballots went out Oct. 19, and are due Nov. 7.
The Tribune asked both candidates four questions and is reprinting their written answers:

1) What will your leadership style over the next four years look like?

Fortney: "While I believe leaders are constantly learning and that is a good thing, I don’t think my leadership “style” will change.  I have brought a unique and innovate style to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office the last four years and my style has accomplished more than the last several Sheriffs’ combined.  I was a graveyard patrol sergeant when I got elected and I am a 27 year street cop.  As a sergeant at our Office you have to be decisive and get stuff done.  I have done exactly that as the Sheriff of Snohomish County!"

Johnson: "Over my 33-year career, my leadership style has evolved to meet the needs of our community and agency.  I would describe it as a transformational leadership style, which will be foundational to inspire employees to strive beyond required expectations; to work toward a shared vision of service.  I have a well-earned reputation for supporting and investing in staff so they may grow professionally.  I know how to build cohesive teams and we will need to lean on each other to address many deficits, including ongoing retention issues, implementation of genuine public safety strategies, and to restore our state accreditation."

2) Law enforcement personnel have seen more functions to perform compared to the past. To you, what responsibilities should be prioritized for the deputies of the sheriff's office?  

Fortney:  "Our first priority is answering 911 calls for service as it is the basis for all that we do.  I have been able to balance the staffing needs for patrol (911 call response) and our specialty units.  It has not been easy the last four years but we have done it!  Secondarily, but equally important, is having specialty units available to proactively combat violent crime.  I recently expanded the mission of our Violent Offender Task Force to include street level violent crime.  They are good at what they do!  I have also added Crime Prevention Officers to our ranks who can relieve and prevent some calls for deputies."

Johnson:  "The demand on law enforcement has grown steadily my entire career.  We readily accept assistance from experts when it comes to behavioral health issues, and it saves us deputy resources.  I am a strong advocate (and helped to build) the first co-responder teams in the county back in 2015.  Having designated crisis responders working with us is solution-based and helps to get people into shelter, treatment, and recovery.  This allows for the rest of the deputies to respond to crimes in our neighborhoods, with priorities being crimes of violence, crimes against children, domestic violence, gangs, and extremist hate groups."

3) What standards should be applied for booking arrestees into jail versus release, and what discretion should field deputies be given in these decisions?

Fortney: "Deputies always have discretion in making an arrest or not. If the decision is to make and arrest and book into jail, the jail should be open to those bookings and that has not always been the case for SCSO.  I changed that and opened the jail to all bookings."

Johnson:  "Deputies have a lot of discretion when it comes to booking people into the jail, with the exception of laws that mandate it (domestic violence).  We expect deputies to book arrestees who committed a crime of violence, as it provides some level of initial protection for the community."    

4) In what ways would you ensure or have you ensured people can trust the sheriff's office under your command? What accountability expectations should be placed on deputies?

Fortney: "Internal accountability is incredibly important to public safety and trust. Because of that I expanded our internal investigation unit from one position to 4 investigators during a time when it was very uncomfortable for me to do so because of staffing. Do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons!"

Johnson:  "My long track record of integrity and transparent accountability is how I earned the endorsement of all five former Snohomish County Sheriffs. I worked in the Office of Professional Accountability and proved that I will both hold employees accountable, as well as back them when they do their job right."



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