An uncomfortable race for Snohomish County Sheriff comes down to one key difference

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. - A lot of people are talking about the election for Sheriff in Snohomish County. It’s an admittedly awkward race considering Sheriff Ty Trenary is being challenged by Sgt. Adam Forntey, someone in his own patrol staff.

“It's been uncomfortable at times, he's treated me fairly well,” Fortney said.

“It can be awkward especially when you are sharing the stage, and we have shared the stage a bunch since this election started,” Trenary said.

Both are family men who are passionate about public safety, but one key difference is coming down to how the office handles jail bookings for misdemeanor crimes.

“I am a tough on crime guy, I stand by it. I think the Snohomish County citizens are demanding it after six years of lack of enforcement. I am saying the blanket policy of not booking misdemeanors if they are high on drugs is not ok,” Fortney said.

“I believe that's fear tactics, first of all that’s not true. We book between 26,000 to 28,000 a year,” Trenary said.

Trenary says those turned away are many times for medical reasons after deaths have occurred in jail.

“If we can’t care for them we ask the booking officer 'Is this person a threat to community safety?' If they are not they are released,” Trenary said.

And Trenary denies being soft on low-level crime.

“We are not soft at all, I think what we are doing is we are looking at this holistically at the criminal justice system. If we can spend less money getting someone out of addiction, out of homelessness,” Trenary said.

Fortney says he is offended that Trenary is depicting his concerns as fear-mongering.

“He is downplaying, he does not realize the impacts those jail restrictions to the men and women who do the job and to the community. Holding people accountable for their crimes is not the solution to the opioid epidemic. Nobody has ever said that; I have never said that. I guess I get accused of booking our way out of this issue, that's not what I am saying. What I am saying is we have to do both,” Fortney said.

Fortney says he believes in jail to disrupt the cycle of repeat offenders with the hope they will accept social services. He says he would not ban medical exams, and in some cases believes people shouldn't be booked due to medical reasons. But he says the current system has become too lenient on misdemeanors.

He says he is not running to dismantle the social service programs created by Trenary, including a 44-bed diversion center helping the homeless and those addicted to drugs.

The Sheriff is also behind programs pairing law enforcement with social workers to fight homelessness.

“I am proud of what we've accomplished and in the next four years we are going to continue to roll up our sleeves and partner with community leaders so families feel safe,” Trenary said.

Despite Trenary's tenure, Fortney says he's standing confident considering he's been endorsed by the vast majority of the rank and file of officers and deputies in Snohomish County.

"These police unions, they aren’t going to get behind a candidate who is going against the incumbent sheriff unless there is something going on in Snohomish County. It's a really big deal and that's kind of what I am hanging my hat on,” Fortney said.

“That's how politics work right, we both go out and get endorsements. Certainly I picked up a lot of endorsements with public safety agencies, certainly it was disappointing; but you don’t crawl up in a ball and don’t do anything. My job is to move forward,” Trenary said.

Fortney’s endorsements include the Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff's Association. A number of police unions across the county are also supporting him, including the ones in Everett, Edmonds, Arlington and Mountlake Terrace.

Sheriff Trenary meanwhile has a long list of elected and executive leaders both on the local and state level supporting him.