Sheriff candidates make their pitches

Bart Olson, Clay Myers face off to be Kittitas County Sheriff

Mitchell Roland, Editor-in-Chief

On election day 2020, the two candidates for the Kittitas County Sheriff’s are making their final push for the job.

Current Sheriff Clay Myers has been on the job for just under a year after being appointed to the position in November of 2019. 

Myers was named Sheriff after the sheriff Gene Dana retired late last year. Now, Myers is running for re-election for a full term.

During the August primary, Myers won with 73.25% of the vote compared to Olson’s 25.74%.

Bart Olson

A 1991 graduate of the CWU criminal justice program with a minor in psychology, Olson currently serves as a Washington State Patrol Sergeant in Ellensburg. 

Before his current post, Olson served on the Governor’s protection team and worked as a reserve in the Kittitas County Sheriff’s office after he graduated.

Olson’s three priorities are increasing the number of officers in the department, increasing officer safety through increasing training and raising drug and crime awareness in the county.

On raising drug and crime awareness, Olson said he wants to crack down on drug use while also helping those with mental health challenges.

“We need to find a way to protect those people,” Olson said. “And what I mean by that is we need to protect people from basically themselves at times, and that’s where law enforcement I think can do a very good job at trying to help those people out.”

Olson said he plans to work closely with mental health professionals in the county, a relationship he said he’s made in the state patrol.

“Law enforcement ends up having to be the person to go in and solve so many mental health issues,” Olson said. “And that’s difficult on law enforcement’s part.

When this happens, Olson said the result “isn’t always great for either officer or sometimes the person in crisis” since a lot of police officers are not equipped to handle these situations.

Olson said he also talked with the police chiefs in various agencies in the county to “go after these drug dealers that are harming our youth.”

“The sheriff’s office actually only made one delivery of a controlled substance in 2019,” Olson said. “So that’s a goal of mine.”

Olson said crimes like assault, robbery and stolen vehicles are “rooted” in drug use and drug dealers so “we need to target all drug dealers.”

While Washington residents voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, Olson said the sale of marijuana is only legal in dispensaries. Olson said he also plans to crack down on opioid and meth distribution in the county and said “we need to target all of the dealers.”

“Ever since marijuana’s been legalized, there are more drug dealers now than I ever saw before marijuana was legalized,” Olson said.

One of his other goals is to increase the number of officers in the sheriff’s department, which Olson said lags behind a population increase in the county.

“Our population has grown in this county, and we continue to grow every year,” Olson said. “I think what happened is people from other parts of the state have realized what a great community this is, and they like the ruralness.”

While a decision to expand the number of deputies in the county is up to the board of county commissioners, Olson said as sheriff he would target CWU law and justice students for the Kittitas County Sheriff reserve program.

“I think there’s a good way to target the people who want to stay here,” Olson said. “Give them information about the sheriff’s office, what we do, what the goal is.”

While increasing the number of officers, Olson said he always wants to better train the department and said he wants “the highest level of training possible to make sure that they are safe in every regard of their job,” while keeping suspects safe as well.

Olson said he wanted to bring the same standard to the sheriff’s office that he has at the state patrol, which he called a “really professional department.”

Olson plans to bring in trainers from across the country and the state to “basically make sure that the Kittitas County sheriff’s office has the best training we possibly can get, within budget means.”

Olson also wants to bring activists and journalists into police training and “show them the aspects of police training and police decision training scenarios.”

By doing this, Olson said it would improve both law enforcement as well as making more people aware of how law enforcement makes decisions.

Clay Myers

Clay Myers

Myers has been on the job for less than a year and served previously as the undersheriff while Dana was Sheriff. Myers did not respond to several requests for interviews for this article.

According to his campaign website, Myers wants to stay in the job so he can help handle the problems Kittitas County faces.

“The county has some big challenges ahead, the continuing impacts of a pandemic, unprecedented restrictions of our civil liberties, and significant population growth,” his campaign website says. “I am well prepared to continue providing public safety to our community as we address these challenges.”

Myers started his career as a corrections officer. He later served as a Line Deputy and then was later promoted in 2004 to the role of Undersheriff by former Sheriff Dana.

“I am in my 34th year with the Sheriff’s Office where I have worked in and commanded every division within the agency,” Myer’s campaign website says.

Myers’ website says before his work in the sheriff’s office Myers served in the US Army and was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which is just south of Lakewood, Washington.

According to his website, his goals for the department are to increase service to the upper part of the county, increase inter-agency communication and cooperation, address mental health and addiction in the county, increase public trust in the department and reduce violent and gang-related crime.

On his website, Myers says he will increase the service to the upper portion of the county so that the department can “improve services and reduce crime,” and he would like to establish a west precinct to do so.

Myers’ website said that he would increase inter-agency cooperation by, among other things, hosting monthly meetings with the heads of local, state and federal agencies, hosting monthly meetings with chiefs and prosecutors and hosting an annual state sheriff’s meeting.

Myers’ website says he will also increase transparency in the department by changing “the historical command structure and business model to enhance transparency and accountability.” 

Myers would appoint a compliance officer to “ensure operational and administrative compliance across the board.”

To address the violent crime and gang crime in the community, Myers’ website said he would increase “training in recognizing and responding to illegal gang activity” while also expanding the intelligence of  “criminal intelligence reporting among local and regional law enforcement.”

According to his website, among his plans for addressing mental health and addiction in the community, Myers will change the structure of the jail “to better serve the addicted inmate population” while also initiating “new programs to enhance medically assisted treatment for inmates.”

In an Oct. 3 forum sponsored by the Kittitas County League of Women Voters and the Daily Record, Myers said he would pursue accreditation for the department by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs if he is elected.

“I absolutely believe that we need to be accredited, we’ve already initiated that process,” Myers said. “I served on the accreditation commission for Washington state and also on the accreditation committee. I’m also a certified accreditation inspector.”

Myers said in the forum that being accredited would help the department have the proper policies in place because “you have to prove that you are doing things the right way.”