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UPDATE: In 2-1 vote, Benton County chooses new sheriff

Hatcher appointed as Benton County sheriff

Benton County Commission appoints Undersheriff Jerry Hatcher to serve as sheriff until the November election.
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Benton County Commission appoints Undersheriff Jerry Hatcher to serve as sheriff until the November election.

Benton County commissioners picked Acting Sheriff Jerry Hatcher to continue leading the sheriff’s department until later this year.

Hatcher, the county’s former undersheriff, was picked to succeed Steve Keane, after commissioners interviewed three candidates for the job in a special session Tuesday afternoon.

The commission interviewed Hatcher, Kennewick Police Sgt. Ken Lattin and Benton County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Bob Brockman.

The vote was 2-1 for Hatcher. Commissioner Jim Beaver voted no but didn’t say why.

The decision sets the stage for a contested election in November when candidates will run to serve out the remainder of Keane’s term, which expires in 2018. This week is filing week and Lattin filed his paperwork Tuesday for the sheriff’s position.

Hatcher said he also plans to file. Brockman has not said if he will run.

Hatcher brought a deep knowledge of sheriff department operations to Tuesday’s interview, after decades with the department and many years in top administrative positions. As undersheriff, he had oversight over both sides of the agency — law enforcement and the jail.

He was intimately involved with developing budgets, managing personnel and took on the sheriff’s responsibilities while former Sheriff Keane was undergoing cancer treatment.

After doing both jobs for the past month, Hatcher said he looks forward to promoting a new undersheriff from within the department’s ranks.

The Benton County sheriff oversees an agency with 210 employees and has an annual budget of more than $30 million. The sheriff is responsible for both law enforcement in the county, as well as the 700-bed Benton County jail.

Commissioners Shon Small and Jerome Delvin said their final choice was a close contest between Hatcher and Lattin.

Lattin, who spent 12 years as the Kennewick Police Department’s public information officer, spoke energetically about the importance of building strong relationships, not only with other law enforcement agencies, but with the community.

He said his 12 years as the face the community’s largest police department has positioned him for a public campaign.

“I will win the election in November,” he vowed to the commissioners.

Keane retired in April for health reasons.

The Benton County sheriff oversees an agency with 210 employees and has an annual budget of more than $30 million, making it the costliest of the county’s operations. The sheriff is responsible for both law enforcement in the county, as well as the 700-bed Benton County jail.

All three candidates said public safety should be the sheriff’s top priority and identified the challenge of housing mentally ill inmates at the jail as one of the most critical issues facing the department.

The county’s elected commissioners are contemplating stripping the jail from the sheriff’s responsibilities and placing it in the control of a new Department of Corrections.

Hatcher is part of that review and said he would welcome the shift if it makes sense for the county and its taxpayers.

Because Keane was elected as a Republican, the Benton County Republican Party accepted nominations after he stepped down to forward to the county commission. Hatcher, Lattin and Brockman were the only three who applied. Hatcher was ranked first as the party’s choice for the appointment.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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