WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Sheriff’s office is up for election in November.
Three-term incumbent Brian Burnett is challenged by Deputy Mike Morrison for the position. The two answered questions Monday in a public forum sponsored by The Wenatchee World at Pybus Public Market.
Burnett was elected in 2010 and Morrison is president of the Chelan County Deputy Sheriff Association. Both filed as Republicans.
Questions answered by the two candidates came from readers’ emails sent to The World and World journalists. The responses below include only two questions. More of their responses will be published Thursday.
The candidates’ responses were edited for clarity and brevity.
Wenatchee World: How does your religious faith shape you as a sheriff and do your personal beliefs affect your ability to fairly serve those with different beliefs?
Mike Morrison: It doesn’t affect me. When I put my uniform on, I’m no longer Mike Morrison, I’m Deputy Morrison or Sheriff Morrison. So I understand that not everyone’s got the same opinions, feelings, beliefs as me, and that’s fine. I follow code. I follow the RCW, I follow case law, and that’s how I do my job. My personal opinions and feelings don’t apply.
Brian Burnett and Mike Morrison discuss sheriff’s office culture, lawsuits
If you were to go out and say this is my personal opinion, or feeling when you’re testifying on the stand, you’re probably gonna get your lunch handed to you by a defense counsel because they don’t care what your personal feelings or opinions are.
So follow the law. Follow case law because that’s usually something that another officer has done wrong and try not to do that, and just continue to go on, do your job, put the uniform on. My uncle, who was sheriff did it; my mom was a lieutenant did it; my dad who’s an officer did it; my cousin who’s a sergeant, he’s done it. They leave their personal opinions and feelings at home. This is not unique to law enforcement.
So check into service, get your uniform on, serve the community, treat everyone equally with respect, and keep your personal opinions to yourself. Like I said, I’m still Mike Morrison behind my uniform. But I understand my personal life should remain my personal life and try to keep it out of your professional job.
Brian Burnett: Well, I would disagree with what my opponent said to some sense because yes, we are going to enforce based on our current RCWs, which is the Revised Code of Washington and the Washington Administrative Code, we’re also going to follow the Constitution. And I’m going to stick to that because we’ve sworn an oath and if we can’t uphold that then it’s definitely time to be renewed or step down.
But I think, for your own faith, I think it should have some groundwork. If your faith is worth following, then it’s something that has brought you up and taught you a work ethic. For me, it’s a work ethic, it’s my integrity.
When we look at the core values of the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office for integrity, teamwork and excellence — that’s what my faith brings there. And it doesn’t mean that I’ve always been perfect. What it means is, is that I strive to do that and if I fail, then I have some counseling and people that I go to as mentors.
And those could be in all different levels. Those could be people outside of law enforcement. Those could be people at your peer level, they could be people below you, around you in all different directions, but you should have people that you go to for wise counsel that you hold yourself accountable to. And to me, that’s what that faith does for me.
And as I raise my children, as I remain a husband, and try to be the best husband and father that I can be, I didn’t get there with 35 years without having some things stretch us through that process. Even in a good family foundation, there’s trying times that come our way and so I fall back on my faith to say, What am I called to do?
But at no point in time, am I going to discriminate against people based on my faith and my religion. So for me, I think it actually it’s an advantage for me, and would take me to the next level to continue to serve as the elected sheriff for a fourth term.
WW: Describe your personal philosophy and approach to policing. Meaning, what do you think makes an effective law enforcement agency?
Burnett: I think what makes a law enforcement agency is one, you have to build relationships. If not, you have to restore those relationships. And those relationships go in every different direction: from your peers — because in a in a peer-type setting is when we go to different conferences at the chief and sheriff level, the networking that goes on is amazing because you come in and you find out information on programs that maybe another agency has started or has had success with, or ones that they’ve struggled with and they’ve learned lessons from. So lessons learned, both negative and positive.
So we want to continue to enforce that and we want to bring in leadership training. We’ve always wanted to be — it’s something we strive for for the last 12 years — is to be a supervised-led agency. We want our supervisors making the decisions on the ground and leading their staff, in a way, but they’re also unified. And that’s one of the places we’ve struggled to get there in the past and I think we’re closer and in a better spot than we’ve ever been before.
I’m really super proud of the supervisors that we have right now working with our chiefs and our command staff in an amazing way, we have great relationships around regionally. So we’re going to continue with that on that leadership level. Servant leadership is we look at not just what’s best for the individual, we always want to do what’s good for our employees.
But I had a commissioner when I was first coming in, as I was running in 2010 for the first time to be elected as sheriff, and he told me said, “Brian, if you keep three things in mind, he says, you keep the citizens first, you keep the employees second, and you and your command staff third, I think you’ll do really well.”
And that’s what we always try to strive for is a 30,000-foot view is what is best for the community, the citizens we serve. And then we try to tap it in and tie it in with our employees, and not only our employees, but our neighbor employees, our brothers and sisters and the other agencies. Whether they’re law enforcement agencies or emergency services, schools, departments within our county, we have to have partnerships in there.
We don’t always have to agree, but we have to work collaboratively together.
Morrison: Protecting and serving, establishing relationships with our community, and realizing that we as law enforcement cannot solve every single problem within our community.
That’s why we got to the point we’re at right now where they came out with mandates that told us to stop doing law enforcement the way we’re doing law enforcement before: because we were trying to insert ourselves into positions that we were not qualified to do, not trained to do, had no lawful authority to even be there in the first place.
So we need to listen to the citizens of Washington state, specifically the citizens of Chelan County, and say, what is it that you expect from us? So in the last election, there was a big conversation about what we as an agency were gonna do differently with drugs hitting our street, specifically fentanyl. That was in 2018. We’re still talking about it, we still don’t have a plan. We have one guy from our agency that’s out there on the (Columbia River Drug Task Force). I don’t really think that’s taking a proactive attack on it.
I’ve also seen that, I’m sure some of you are noting that we have a lot of unhoused coming into our neighborhood. So we don’t have a plan for that. I mean, clearly, we should have been able to see that this is happening all around. It’s happening in Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, Yakima.
We do have entities within this county that want to help. The Wenatchee mission, I was just out there last week talking with them to see what they’re doing to address this since they’re welcoming a lot of this population in and trying to help them trying to get back up on their feet. They said you were the first employee from Chelan County that we have ever had come by and stop by and talk to us and see what you’re doing. They’re actually setting up facilities to invite these people here, provide them with garbage, outhouse facilities, plumbing, and then trying to give them assistance to go back, find a job, get out of the situation they’re in, and hopefully, get them in a different direction or become citizens of Chelan County who are productive.
So I’m also going to continue to work with our partners, but I also realize we’re gonna need to expand out from what we’ve been doing, and get the focus back to what our community wants and stop focusing on what our reputation is in the state. I’ve said it before, I don’t care if we’re number one state for training. I’m a trainer. I do think we should get training. But I want to make sure that we’re number one in the state for our citizens being happy with the level of service we have and addressing our issues before they become a problem or the storm hits, so to say.
So let’s get out there. Let’s get back to focusing on talking to our community, because those are the ones that we serve, not ourselves.