A tale of 4 Sheriffs In 1998 when I began my service as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff (part time, volunteer), the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office had a great reputation. It was a smaller agency (as it remains) compared to Portland Police, but they also ran the jail.
I remember the day when I was in the police academy and I got a speeding ticket. I think it was my first ever. I went hat in hand to the leadership of the Reserve unit explaining to them what happened. The response was quite unexpected, there was a chuckle and the response was "you're in good company - you and the Sheriff got one this week."
It turns out that then Sheriff Dan Noelle had also been ticketed via photo radar.
When he was contacted by the media to ask what he was going to do -- now this is over a decade ago and I am paraphrasing, the Sheriff responded by simply saying that he was going to pay the ticket. That is personal responsibility that I think we should expect in our elected law enforcement leaders (and let's face it, electing a top cop in itself is common but odd) yet we've been missing in Multnomah County since 2003.
When Sheriff Noelle left office, Bernie Giusto was easily elected Sheriff but all to quickly became a laughingstock as Sheriff (though stories like this remind us despite blunders, he's still a good guy). After repeated misstep after misstep and investigation after investigation only when faced with losing his certification required to be Sheriff, he resigned. Before he left, he ceded much of the jail authority (which is roughly 70% of the Sheriff's Office budget) to the Board of Commissioners. Of course, in that time we even reelected Giusto despite his challenges though there was little opposition essentially giving voters little choice (except for the far too few of us who wrote in Paul van Orden).
Oddly, the County Charter allows the Commissioners and Sheriff to name their own replacement (they have to be named and approved by the Board in advance). Apparently the Charter doesn't require the potential replacement to be qualified, as Giusto named retired Sheriff Bob Skipper.
Skipper was by all reports a great sheriff in his day. But he lost his police certification because he wasn't an officer for over 5 years (he was in another position for nearly 15 years, actually).
With ample training law enforcement officers sometime make mistakes. I think having standards are absolutely critical. However, I thought it was a good idea when the legislature hand crafted a law that Skipper be allowed to not go through basic police training all again should he be able take a short course and simply pass the tests proving he had the base knowledge of his most rookie officer. Despite it being open book he failed it, according to the Oregonian Skipper was only the third person in five years to fail the test. And then he failed it again.
To retain his position he has to finish police basic training within a year of being elected, this November. But because he fought and fought to find any other way, the clock has essentially run out.
Oh, by the way, Skipper gets to name his own replacement also. As of last week, his designee, another sheriff's office retiree and current Undersheriff Tom Slyter, was not qualified though he was taking the test last week. But don't worry, in fine tradition, Skipper is fighting on to remain as Sheriff instead of riding off into the sunset to preserve (what remains of) the integrity of the office.
Though these cases are nothing alike, I think that recent former Marion County Sheriff Russ Isham provides a good model for how to act as an elected sheriff when you've really screwed up. Before we knew what was happening, we found out Isham was resigning. Only the did we learn it was about an affair that he attempted to cover up. Isham is challenged both personally and profession yet because of the way he departed, his office remains untarnished.
Next May, there will be an election for a full term as Sheriff and so far there's only one announced candidate, former Sheriff's Office Lt. Bruce McCain. You might remember good ole Bruce as the promoter in chief of Bernie when he was in a pinch. He served both as an internal lackey and and external lawyer. Maybe if he gets elected, he can have Derrick Foxworth named as his designee so the long awaited punchline will continue to elude us. Or Lon Mabon.
McCain had an op-ed published in the Oregonian this week where he blasts Skipper. Showing his true ethical colors, McCain neither disclosed that he was defeated for Sheriff by Skipper in the past nor that he was planning to run in the primary next year apparently against Skipper if needed.
Or, we can get a qualified candidate who has both the experience and mettle to take on such a public role. The County Commission faced a crisis in confidence in recent years. But that's gone with the current Board. Thank goodness. We need credibility in the sheriff's office also. We cannot do that with an unqualified sheriff. We cannot do that with a public official who spent his free time defending the likes of the Oregon Citizen's Alliance.
C'mon Multnomah County. We can do better. We must.