#4ThePeople: Spokane County Sheriff candidates face off in first debate

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane County is getting ready to elect a new sheriff, and the first debate to earn your vote is in the books.

John Nowels is the current undersheriff, and Wade Nelson is a retired detective with the sheriff’s office.

During the debate on Thursday at the Spokane Club, both said homelessness is out of control in the county. They agree being homeless by itself shouldn’t be criminalized, but certain actions should.

“The problem is we have stopped holding people accountable for low-level misdemeanors and just something we as citizens have to deal with because they’re homeless or have one of those issues,” said John Nowels. “We need to start holding people accountable.”

“The acts that you do are what are criminal,” Wade Nelson said. “If you’re breaking the law, you need to be held accountable. There has to be that back-in program that truly gets that person his dignity back, gets him off the drugs, the mental health they need.”

When it comes to housing criminals and having enough space in the jail, the issue isn’t new. It’s been debated for years. Now, both candidates say it’s time to talk about building a new corrections center.

“I am 100% for a new jail,” Nelson said. “I know it’s an expensive thing that needs to happen and it’s something as community leaders we need to come together and really look at.”

“The crime that we are being subjected to right now — part of it is driven by the fact that we can’t hold anybody accountable or put them in jail,” Nowels said. “We can’t provide the services we all agree need to be provided.”

They know it will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and both say it should come to a public vote first.

Both of these candidates worked in law enforcement for decades, but when it comes to who’s ready for the job, those qualifications are being called into question.

“You wouldn’t hire the concrete finisher to run that project top to bottom,” Nowels said of Nelson. “The citizens of Spokane County require and deserve an executive who has worked in every level of law enforcement.”

“In the sheriff’s department, I chose a different path than most.” Nelson said to defend his career. “I didn’t want to move up as sergeant in that way. I wanted to be in leadership positions in specialty teams that still served and touched the community the whole time through.”

Send the questions you’d like 4 News Now to take to these candidates as voters prepare to elect a new sheriff.

VIDEO: Debate between Spokane Sheriff candidates Wade Nelson, John Nowels