PORT ORCHARD — The Kitsap County Democrats have selected Sgt. Brandon L. Myers as their top choice to become the next Kitsap County Sheriff.
Myers was selected by the organization’s nominating committee following a July 21 candidate forum, which featured candidates that members considered for the county’s top law enforcement position. The committee nominated Interim Sheriff John Gese as its second choice and former sheriff’s Lt. Kathy Collings as its third choice.
Myers is a patrol supervisor who was born and raised in Kitsap County. His law enforcement career began as an explorer cadet with the sheriff’s office at the age of 17. He later became a reserve deputy, then worked as a 911 dispatcher before being hired as a full-time deputy.
During the candidate forum, Myers said he prioritizes community policing and interactions that emphasize mental health treatment.
“I believe that the role of the sheriff is exactly the conduit between law enforcement and our community. Never in law enforcement has there been more of an opportunity for us to get involved with what is really going on in our world and in our community,” Myers said.
Myers painted himself as the candidate willing to have a dialogue with the community to develop what the future of law enforcement could look like.
“Law enforcement is in an interesting transitional period,” Myers said. “There’s opportunities for law enforcement leaders to step up and break down the barriers to community involvement.”
When former Sheriff Gary Simpson, a Democrat, announced his retirement earlier this year, the Kitsap County Democrats organization was tasked with making nominations for who would serve the rest of his term.
Chairwoman Johanna Baxter said it was a responsibility they took seriously. She said the organization focused on the needs of the community in making their selection. All three of the candidates are excellent choices for sheriff, Baxter said.
Democrats’ top choice
Part of Myer’s vision for sheriff is to seek answers from the community about what its needs are from law enforcement.
“I think that it’s really difficult if we’re not asking those difficult questions and we’re not going out and seeking those responses. It’s very hard to change,” Myers said.
The committee compiled questions for the forum from the community and precinct officers, choosing 12 questions to ask the candidates. One asked the candidates if they were fully supportive of body cameras, and if so, how would they prioritize them in the budgeting process.
All three candidates said body cameras are a necessity, as is the funding needed to purchase and maintain the equipment. Gese, who as interim sheriff has been seeking cost estimates for the department, estimated it would cost about $2.5 million for a five-year implementation of body cameras.
The three candidates mentioned the need to generate revenue to fund the devices but didn’t give specific ways in which to do this.
Regarding last year’s response by Washington sheriffs to refuse to uphold Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate, the candidates were asked what their duty was to uphold a law they may personally believe is unconstitutional.
Myers responded that it is law enforcement’s job to determine a response to legislation and to not let personal opinion influence their decision-making.
Both Collings and Gese spoke of law enforcement’s responsibility to determine what legislation is to be enforced. Gese said sheriffs have discretion on what laws to enforce. In the case of the mask mandate, Gese said there were other avenues available, such as educating individuals on the importance of wearing masks instead of writing tickets or arresting people. This echoed sentiments Simpson shared in a July 8, 2020, special announcement, in which he stated that the county would focus on education and community partnership in response to the health crisis.
The Kitsap County commissioners interviewed the three candidates on Aug. 2 during their afternoon briefing. Gelder said some of the topics they were looking at included management and leadership experience, experience with bargaining units, issues regarding new legislation, and race and equity concerns.
Gese said the county will be hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultant. His hope is that this new hire can instruct the sheriff’s office on how it can provide proven methods to achieve these goals.
Myers instead suggested that the sheriff must be at the forefront of DEI work by going into minority communities and asking what the agency could be doing better. Having community members sit on oral boards for new hires was another approach Myers suggested. Collings also said the sheriff and leaders in the agency should meet with community members who feel excluded.
After their interviews, the commissioners will deliberate on a section on Monday, Aug. 9. Gelder said they hope to come to a consensus on an appointment at that meeting, which will be open to the public.
Whomever the commissioners appoint will serve the remainder of Simpson’s term — a year and a half — and will decide at the end of that term whether or not to run for reelection.
Selecting a sheriff is not a decision the commissioners are taking lightly, Gelder said. They want to ensure whoever is put in this role has the skills to manage one of the largest organizations in the county, he said.
In 2020, the sheriff’s office budget amounted to 41% of the general fund expenditures for the county, according to the 2021 annual budget presentation for the county, which can be found on kitsapgov.com.