During this election season, Washoe County Sheriff candidates Tim Kuzanek and Chuck Allen have offered some responses that have bearing on how they feel about citizen oversight of police. Here is what we’ve gathered:
These questions were asked of the candidates for sheriff by the RN&R before the primary: In light of the problems with officer-involved shootings happening in places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, would you be amenable to modifying Washoe County’s officer-involved shooting protocol membership to include a non-law enforcement member? Why or why not?
Allen: I personally would not be opposed to having a qualified civilian or citizen be a part of the process that reviews officer-involved shooting cases in Washoe County. As a leader, I believe whenever you have a diverse group of people assigned to review any processes or protocols for any organization, you will often get more feedback or input which is directly attributed to the diversity of thought. Ultimately though, the local District Attorney would have the final word on whether this incident was justified or not, or the US Attorney’s Office representative for those cases which are federal.
Kuzanek: Yes, I am amenable to modifying the OIS Protocol.
At the Republican Women of Reno forum at the Atlantis on Aug. 14, regarding how they’d handle public unrest like that that arose after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (www.rgj.com/story/news/2014/08/15/washoe-sheriff-hopefuls-weigh-ferguson-riots/14095723)
Kuzanek: One of the basic responsibilities of a sheriff is to put down riots. It is absolutely not OK to have public unrest like you are seeing in some of these other places. We cannot allow for that to happen. As the sheriff, not only from members of our agency and based on the relationships that I have with Reno and Sparks personnel and our federal partners as well, I’m drawing in every single law enforcement officer that I can, if I need to, I’ll call the governor, and I’ll get the Guard out here to help us, and we’ll quell that. We will not allow people to loot, pillage and rape here in Washoe County under any circumstances no matter what the triggering event was.
Allen: That situation reminded me of one that happened in our own state not too long ago. As sheriff, community partnerships are huge, and one of the things I’ve got listed on my card, I want to assign a deputy to the respective neighborhood advisory boards or citizen advisory boards. I believe in having the dialogue with the community by a regular deputy attending those meetings or a supervisor. But I think, for you, the citizens of Washoe County, you need to have trust and respect in the agency. And that comes through community-oriented policing. And I suspect that had Chief Jackson engaged the community more in Ferguson, Missouri, this may not have blown to the proportion that it has. I would agree with Tim, yes, you can not tolerate that type of behavior, but I think before it escalates to that level, having the dialog, having the trust, having the respect of the community does go a long way in curtailing some of these actions.
From the KNPB/RGJ debate on Sept. 25 (watch.knpb.org/video/2365335712).
Brent Boynton: What is your opinion in how officer-involved shootings are handled in Washoe County. Is it a best practice to have an outside agency from the same county handle these investigations?
Kuzanek: Yes, we’ve had an officer-involved shooting protocol in Washoe County for many years. As a matter of fact, within the last year to 18 months, there were several meetings that occurred with policing executives and the DA’s office in our region to update that particular protocol, to make sure that we were handling things in an appropriate way for our region. At this time, right now, everything that we’re doing is more than standard; it’s a model that other regions should use. We’ve tried very hard to make sure that everything within that protocol is followed, that all the personnel all the procedures are worked out in an appropriate way, and I just think that it works very well in our region.
Allen: Public perception is everything, and I think having an outside agency come in and handle the shooting investigation is critical because the public expects a transparent, open, thorough and complete investigation, and when you bring in an allied agency to investigate such a tragedy, it does tell the public that that will be handled in the appropriate manner.
—D. Brian Burghart