Breadth of Sheriff’s Office

 

The Sheriff of Washington County manages a broad organization comprised of a large budget, large workforce, and a large variety of services to the community. And it matters that the Sheriff has the experience, training, and qualification to manage this breadth.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state, with an annual budget in excess of $125 million dollars. Its sheriff must prepare and allocate that budget with its various funding streams and constraints in a way that reflects organizational values, sets the organization’s direction, and achieves the best value for our diverse community. This takes knowledge, skill, and experience. Part of my Masters of Public Administration coursework at Portland State University was in public budgeting. This training was invaluable to me as I became more involved in higher level budget preparation. I have now been involved at the top level of the sheriff’s office budgeting process for many years. When I became chief deputy 14 years ago, I provided oversight for budget preparation. We allocate the budget mindful it’s the community’s money. As sheriff, I have been pleased to report to the community that for the fiscal year that ended in June 2018 we accomplished our mission and still returned to the county about 6% of our allotted budget, saving the community $7 million. (Due to constraints on how different funds can be spent, these funds could not be used to add Jail beds or create additional positions.)

Let me emphasize again, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state, with just over 600 positions. Managing and leading these professionals is an honor and responsibility that requires and benefits from training and experience. You can read my thoughts on leadership in my previous blog on the subject. But I will briefly summarize my experience and training here: I have over 20 years in leadership positions at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and 25 years in the military as a leader, as well as extensive training to include much military coursework and training, and the John F. Kennedy School’s seminar for state and local leaders at Harvard.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the sheriff’s office provides the most diverse array of services of any local public safety agency I know. Voters should ask anyone who wishes to be sheriff if they have all the necessary qualifications to hold the office, experience necessary to oversee all the different divisions, and sufficient training and experience to earn the highest levels of state certification.

An effective sheriff needs to be fully qualified to run the office and have knowledge and experience across the wide variety of services provided by the office. Over my 31-year career, I am fortunate to have experience with many of the various services and the professionals who provide them.

As a patrol deputy, I enjoyed being part of a team to keep our community safe. Whether working a lengthy investigation, running with a canine and handler to track a fleeing suspect or helping to connect a domestic violence survivor with safe housing after arresting the assailant, I always felt part of something important to our community. Every decision I make is through the lens of keeping our community safe, and that safety remains the priority of policing at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

As a former member of our Tactical Negotiations Team (SWAT), I am personally familiar with the risk associated with responding to resolve some of the most dangerous situations faced by law enforcement. I have strong memories of executing high-risk search warrants before daylight or, as an example, working late into the evening while we negotiated with an armed man seated in front of his garage threatening suicide with his firearm. Understanding that risk brings a commitment to ongoing and frequent training, excellent equipment, teamwork, interagency partnerships, and staying abreast of emerging best practices.

As an investigator on the Westside Interagency Narcotics Team and part of a team of investigators who focused on large scale illegal drug traffickers, I learned how to improve public safety by putting high-level drug traffickers out of business. These investigations frequently involve illegal firearms and paranoid traffickers who are quite willing to take great risk or possibly harm others to avoid apprehension.

Experience with multiple senior-level positions across each of the five major divisions in the sheriff’s office (east and west patrol, investigations, jail and services) and executive administration is crucial to understanding the big picture view of the operations occurring in the sheriff’s office. I feel very fortunate to have been provided the opportunity to work with every division in the sheriffs’ office during my service here.

I served as a division commander in both patrol and the jail. I am continually impressed with the high level of professionalism and teamwork in the Jail Division to run the county’s only jail. Important functions of operating our jail include direct supervision of inmates, programming (classes), and quality healthcare, while maintaining a culture of safety and respect.

One of many components of patrol west is Marine Patrol. As west patrol commander, I joined deputies assigned to marine duties who patrolled Henry Hagg Lake. A busy weekend can net 10,000 lake visitors, and deputies stay busy supporting water safety.

After being promoted from division commander to chief deputy, I accompanied civil deputies in our Services Division, as they served court-ordered documents. A sheriff’s office is the only local law enforcement agency in the state to serve civil orders of the court, like restraining orders, evictions, court summons, etc. In my travels with civil deputies, I found they are very focused on safety, but also patient, explaining the process, and doing their best to leave the person on positive terms.

As chief deputy, I provided oversight for budget preparation and our Services Division whose broad focus includes training, hiring, internal affairs, concealed handgun licensing, alarm permits, and more. And as undersheriff I had oversight of both east and west patrol divisions. As sheriff I am honored to represent all our divisions, and the professionals who work in them, equally.

In addition to asking themselves if a candidate for sheriff has the necessary qualifications and experience to hold the office, voters should also ask if the candidate has the required qualification to hold the office – certification. One of the primary missions of any Sheriffs’ Office is to provide effective police services. Because of that, any person who is elected to the Office of Sheriff must be certified as a police officer by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) within one year of taking office. Certification as a police officer is the only required certification; corrections certification is not required. There is a big difference between being police certified and being corrections certified, which is why there is a separate academy for each. A person may run for sheriff, but without police certification, they are unqualified to serve for more than one year. To become qualified, they must attend and pass a four-month police academy and become police certified (ORS 206.015). Being away from the office of sheriff for four months of the first year would create significant challenges to the operation of the office. Even after returning from the academy, they would have to spend several months going through the field training and evaluation program, working as a police officer to become fully certified. It is fair to ask how much time they could spend serving as sheriff during that first year in office, as opposed to time spent trying to become qualified to do the job of sheriff.

I have been certified as an Oregon police officer for over three decades. I also have corrections certification. Additionally, there are different levels of certification through DPSST one can obtain – basic, intermediate, advanced, supervisory, management and executive. They reflect the person’s education, experience and leadership level within the public safety community. I hold the highest levels of certification (executive) in both police and corrections disciplines. If a person became sheriff without first becoming police certified, at best they would earn the basic police certification in the first year, and then could earn other certifications over the course of additional years.

Such a large, diverse organization requires a sheriff with executive experience and expertise in multiple disciplines to best grasp the unique challenges and work of each division. As a sheriff with experience at multiple executive command level assignments at the sheriff’s office, I count myself lucky to lead a large group of professionals across our broad range of services who work hard to keep our community safe. These professionals are key to our success, such as lowering our crime rate, maintaining rigorous professional accreditation standards, providing world-class training, meeting challenges head-on, and building supportive relationships with community and agency partners. They deserve a sheriff with the experience to understand and appreciate their contributions across our entire organization.

Pat

My Thoughts on Veterans Day

 

Evenings in Baghdad are cold in February. One night after walking to the small post exchange after dinner, the chill in the air had me moving quickly back to Squadron to help finish plans for the next day’s mission. Then the alarm from the AN/TPQ-36 radar sounded. This alarm provides about eight seconds notice before what’s flying through the air lands somewhere on base. In this case, 107mm mortars. Sprinting, I and about 10 other Soldiers converged on a nearby, small concrete bunker. Inside the bunker, as nearby explosions interrupted the noise of the radar’s continuous alarm, all rank and formality was lost to relief on being inside the bunker. Different units, jobs, and rank meant most of us didn’t know each other. But in the darkness, experiencing together what felt like a close call, we shared cigarettes, stories, and jokes until the “all clear” signal. As quickly as we had converged and grown close in the moment, we scattered into the night to finish the day’s work.

Airborne School, 1990

As other Veterans know, people come to the military from all corners of our country and become a team where you learn about, and rely on, people very different from you. One reason I enjoyed serving in the United States Army was because I met, worked, and connected with people I might never have met otherwise. While not always easy at first, my experience proved time and again our diversity made us stronger and better problem solvers. We have more in common than not. Whether in training or real-world mission, the Army culture, leaders and Soldiers brought us together to accomplish the mission we were called upon to complete.

The connection I felt with the other Soldiers in the bunker that night got me through that experience and other moments like it until it was time to come home. A Veteran’s homecoming is wonderful, but can also be fraught, as we can lose that sense of connection, as well as bringing with us memories and consequences of our experiences.

If you or a Veteran you know feels disconnected, depressed, overwhelmed, or hopeless, please reach out to friends, family, professionals. Support is available:

  • VA’s Veteran’s Crisis Line (talk): 800-273-8255
  • VA’s Veteran’s Crisis Line (text): 838255
  • VA’s Veteran’s Crisis Line (online chat): VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat
  • Lines for Life Military Helpline (talk): 888-457-4838
  • Lines for Life Military Helpline (text): 839863

Pat

Because You Asked – Listening and Climate

 

“Because You Asked” blogs are in response to questions asked by you, the community I serve. Each volume addresses a question or group of questions. I’ve tried to keep the questions worded as asked, but occasionally have to reword them either to provide context or to combine similar questions. In any case, I’ve tried to retain the questioner(s)’ intent.

Questions – How much time do you currently devote to talking with your deputies, sergeants, lieutenants and commanders, and do you ever partner with any of them on a shift to keep a street-level connection to both the deputies serving under you, and the residents you serve? How do you feel the current climate is among deputies and senior enforcement and corrections personnel – is it healthy, or is it in need of change?

I remember what it was like to be a deputy and have my sergeant ask for my opinion, provide me relevant feedback, and offer suggestions. I felt I was a valued part of the team and that our shared mission mattered. It instilled in me a desire to seek feedback, accept criticism, and innovate. As a leader, I want to inspire that in every single Sheriff’s Office member. I need all the shared voices and innovation. So I listen.

In the first 100 days after I became Sheriff in 2011, I met with 100 Sheriff’s Office professionals to get an overall sense of their attitude, satisfaction, and confidence about their work. I asked them what was working, suggestions for change, and any other topic they chose. Responses about what worked well included teamwork, professionalism, community support, their valuable mission, and staff comradery. Suggestions for change included more 10-hour shifts, authorization to wear load-bearing vests instead of carrying all tools on a belt, more office-wide communication, shortening the hiring process, and providing driver’s training for Jail deputies. Changes we’ve been able to implement based on staff suggestions include:

  • authorizing load-bearing vests
  • a shortened hiring process that better addresses today’s hiring landscape
  • adding drivers training for Jail deputies (made possible by this year’s Training Center opening)

Then in 2016 I met with 50 individuals in 50 days to again hear their views on important topics. Generally, I heard appreciation for the changes they had seen as a result of earlier conversations and compliments for senior leaders being increasingly visible at briefings and staff meetings. I also heard concerns about overtime rates, suggestions for more supervisor training, the need for a dedicated place to train, and requests to relax some parts of the grooming policy. Changes to address some of those concerns have been:

  • Addition of Jail positions – 19 permanent and 20 temporary
  • More training and development opportunities for leaders
  • A dedicated, world class training facility
  • Updated grooming and appearance policy, relevant for today’s workforce while remaining professional

While formalized individual discussions are helpful, our leadership team and I decided the best way to map our organization’s future in a way that not only serves our community, but also includes our staff’s valuable perspectives, was to conduct an employee survey. In 2017 we developed an anonymous office-wide survey to get feedback from everyone who was interested to provide it. The survey asked questions related to job satisfaction, work environment, supervision, promotion, training, and communication. From the survey results we implemented improvements to include:

  • Restructuring the promotion process, using outside experts and best-practices
  • Implementing desired shift changes in Patrol and Investigations
  • Replacing a legacy evaluation system with one better suited for mentoring and coaching
  • Renewed focus on division-level and office-wide communication

I believe that informal connections are equally vital. Almost every day, to varying degrees, I have discussions with individuals and get feedback from staff, whether they are brand new, or long-tenured professionals. These discussions happen in hallways, the locker room, shift briefings, staff meetings, when someone stops by my office, or when I check in with individuals. Frequently these discussions begin with a story of a ‘win’ or a challenging experience. Other common themes during these conversations include being part of an important mission and effective team, their teammates and supervisor(s), surges in workload and overtime, the availability of time off, and even issues outside of work.

I also get good feedback when I spend time on the job with our Jail or Patrol deputies, whether it’s a few hours or an entire shift. Depending on my schedule, this happens at intervals from every few weeks to several months. Doing so provides me invaluable insight into our Sheriff’s Office staff’s challenges, their talents and professionalism. It also provides me an opportunity to connect with the residents I serve in a different way than in my daily interactions with community groups, agencies, committees, and organizations. I come away reminded of the honor it is to serve both our capable staff and wonderful community.

While these practices and changes have produced positive feedback, work to connect with our professionals and foster the best work environment possible never stops. We continue to work toward other improvements that are more challenging, like desired shift changes and more staff in the Jail Division, which is our most pressing challenge. But throughout my time as Sheriff, the vast majority of our staff’s enthusiasm for the mission, our work, the team, and their positive impact on the community is clear and strong, which has an overall positive impact on our climate.

And so I will continue to listen, learn, and respond.

Pat