Clallam County’s new sheriff calls for legislative changes

It was the cowboy hats and stars that inspired newly elected Sheriff Brian King to want to serve with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, King joked as he spoke to a large group at the Forks Chamber of Commerce meeting on Wednesday in Forks.”I had been with the La Push police department and the Forks Police department but sitting in the squad room one day I saw those county guys come walking in wearing cowboy hats and stars…I knew it was my goal to be with the Sheriff’s department.”

But in more seriousness, King shared that Clallam county has problems and some of it is the result of recent legislative changes that have made the job of policing more difficult.

King said he is proud to have been elected as the new Sheriff, “The level of responsibility is on me, if I am not doing a good job then don’t re-elect me, but I need the tools to do a good job and the recent actions by the legislature are affecting that.”

King shared he has 27 years dedicated to law enforcement and his highest goal is safe communities, “I want to make sure Clallam County is safe.” King said he needs the funding and manpower to do that.

“In 2001 when I started with the sheriff’s office there were 200 people in line for the jobs, that is not the case now,” King said.

King shared that now when they recruit potential staff maybe 10 people apply and nine out of the 10 can’t pass the background check. The CCSO currently has 98 employees with 11 spots open. “We are constantly recruiting.”

King said that they also have about 120 volunteers who bring skillsets to the department such as radio knowledge, search and rescue, “The volunteers put us above the rest.”

Drugs and mental health

King said that some of the issues the county is now dealing with have become worse with well-intended legislation. “Our legislature had good intentions, prior to the new laws, we had felony possession, we looked at the offender’s score and had a successful drug court. We had a 30 percent success rate.”

King said now people aren’t even hiding their drug use, it is in the street, parks, and even across the street from King’s home in Port Angeles.

King said the Blake decision affecting simple possession of drugs, which involved the “These aren’t my pants” defense has left law enforcement with fewer options to get people into treatment,” adding, “Now we have to hand them a piece of paper three times, it is not working.”

“This has created a quagmire, this reform movement.”

Fentanyl is an epidemic, King said, “It took it a while to get here, it is deadly stuff, and it is here.”

King said that in 2021 they seized 279 pills and in 2022, 20,000 pills. “Drugs drive crimes, if we could take away the drugs maybe we wouldn’t need the jail.” King said he didn’t want to be doomsday but that we are seeing the consequences of poor laws.

“Now that we can’t arrest people for drugs, we can’t get them in jail and help them. Jail is where they start to think, get a clearer mind and their behavior can be monitored.” King said they have treated 350 people in the jail. Jail is expensive, King said, “it costs taxpayers $150 per inmate per day.”

And speaking of the jail King shared that people with mental health issues are in high numbers in the county jail. “Fifty percent of the people in jail appear to be dealing with mental health issues,” King said.

“We used to be able to hold about 140 prisoners, now with the mental health problem we can only hold 120, many can’t mix with the general population and have to be isolated. Some are so dangerous we can’t even go in their cell.”

“Our state is failing, there is a lack of services and no place for those with mental health issues to go, it is a revolving door …then back in jail.”


King shared that the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs is urging legislators to bring back balance in several areas, another of which is pursuits.

“We are a society of rules, and when law enforcement is behind you on the road, they turn their lights on, and you pull over. Well, that doesn’t happen anymore.” King said Clallam County usually averaged about six pursuits a year. In the past 15 years King said that there have been no injuries that resulted from pursuits. “People who don’t stop are usually doing bad things,” King said.

King shared that there was a recent pursuit that involved a drive-by shooting in Port Angeles. “Police officers now have to ask themselves …can I pursue or not. “We were able to make an arrest in that pursuit; drugs, guns and cash were in that vehicle.”

“Pursuits are dangerous, but police are highly trained, we know when to discontinue,” King added.

“We need to get back to safe communities; Washington state has the lowest officer-to-citizen ratio in the country,” King said. He suggested that the state has the money to return sales tax, 1/10th of one percent, back to the county to help with law enforcement. “The state has the money, put it back for criminal justice.”

In conclusion, Sheriff King said, “My pitch today, is for you to email your legislator, and let them know your opinion.”