When community will 'finally grow up' it will be 'unstoppable,' Knezovich says

Sep. 30—Spokane County still has some growing up to do after Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich leaves for Wyoming at the end of the year, the sheriff told a crowded room during the annual State of the County presentation on Thursday.

It was the first State of the County presentation delivered to an in-person audience since 2019.

After highlighting a number of economic, recreational and mental health projects that the county is developing, keynote speaker County Commission Chairwoman Mary Kuney donned a white cowboy hat and brought the sheriff, wearing a similar hat, to the lectern.

"In the 16 years that I've been here, what I'm most proud of, I can tell you that's a hard one," the sheriff said.

Knezovich said he was proud of his office bringing back Crime Check, establishing a new emergency management communication system and the sheriff's office community partnerships.

The sheriff is also proud of the standards for law enforcement training at his office, he said. Fairchild Air Force Base and the sheriff's office broke ground on a small arms range and training center earlier this year, which Kuney said is the first partnership between the Air Force and a local government in the U.S.

"What's my regrets? It will always be the Spokane County Jail," said Knezovich, who has been an outspoken proponent of a new facility for years. "Folks, it was never about a new jail. It was about a new system. One built on smart justice, one that dealt not with incarcerating people, but giving them an opportunity to break the cycle of incarceration."

The Spokane County Commission is expanding expand to five commissioners and is switching to district-only voting in five districts , which Knezovich also said he found troubling.

"I predict it will become fiefdoms and there will be no clear vision for Spokane County at that point," he said.

Although the sheriff did not address his plans to clear the homeless encampment in the East Central Neighborhood, known as Camp Hope, he said he's been willing to be the community's "resident bad boy" in an effort to accomplish difficult projects.

"I can think of no other community that has the potential you have, and I truly mean that, and when you finally grow up and realize your potential you will be unstoppable," the sheriff said of the Spokane community. "But until you stop the divide, we can't move forward. We have to stop enabling that which is crucifying our community. I hope you all well and it has truly been the greatest honor in my life to serve you."