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Groups ask for community panel to review sheriff applicants

The Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon and the Racial Equity Coalition have asked the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to form a community panel to review applications and make recommendations for a new sheriff.

The groups made their request during a Wednesday Board of Commissioners meeting.

Sheriff Corey Falls, who took office at the beginning of 2015, accepted a job as director of police services and 21st-century policing with the city of Gresham and will leave at the end of this month.

The county charter tasks county commissioners with choosing a replacement sheriff. Voters will elect a new sheriff during the next general election in November 2018.

"When making decisions which are usually made directly by the Jackson County electorate, soliciting input from a broad cross-sector of the electorate is the most efficient way to put fairness, openness and inclusive decision-making into practice," Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon Executive Director Maggie Sullivan said to commissioners Wednesday as she read from a coalition letter.

She said law enforcement officers often serve as a 24-hour-a-day social services safety net. They interact with some of the most vulnerable members of the community — including racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, youth, people with mental health issues and disabilities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Sullivan asked that a panel be convened with representatives from business, social services, civil services and other community sectors.

"This panel should be involved in reading over resumes and in interviewing the applicants, then sharing input and recommendations with you," Sullivan said.

The Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon works to reduce health disparities and includes health care, law enforcement, education and social services representatives. The coalition has been consulted on hiring processes by local agencies, and has supported training on transparent, open hiring practices and implicit bias, according to its letter to commissioners.

The Racial Equity Coalition of Southern Oregon has worked with Falls to create more awareness about racial equity and to improve community relations with law enforcement, said member Amanda Singh Bans.

The Racial Equity Coalition also called for commissioners to form a community panel, or at the least to consult with groups working on racial justice issues. The coalition asked that commissioners seek input from underrepresented groups, including people of color, migrant communities, people with mental health issues, disabled people, working-class people, the homeless and LGBTQ members.

The coalition praised Falls and asked for a continuation of his community-policing strategies.

"The exemplary leadership of Sheriff Falls over the past two years has markedly improved many aspects of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, including updated policing strategies, the introduction of body-worn cameras, implementing implicit bias staff training, and winning a Community Oriented Policing grant to continue improving professional policing practices," Singh Bans, who was also reading from a letter, told commissioners.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer has called for the creation of a community panel to provide a nonbinding recommendation to commissioners. Commissioners Colleen Roberts and Doug Breidenthal have said a panel isn't necessary.

However, Breidenthal — who lost a re-election bid — is being replaced in January by Commissioner-Elect Bob Strosser, a former police officer. Strosser has said he is open to creating a community panel.

Commissioners will start deliberations on Falls' replacement after he leaves his post as sheriff.

Regardless of whether a community panel is convened in January, Dyer and Roberts said they are already getting wide-ranging input from community members through phone calls, emails, in-person conversations and at various meetings around the valley.

"There is lots of community outreach going on," Dyer said.

Earlier this month, the Jackson County Sheriff Employees Association, a union representing sheriff's office employees, issued a letter asking commissioners to choose a replacement for Falls who will continue his progressive policies and cooperative approach with their union.

Employees said they are receiving additional training on topics such as ethics and impartial policing, and the cooperative relationship has improved the efficiency of the sheriff's department and allowed them to focus more on public safety.

Jackson County is accepting applications from people interested in becoming sheriff until 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.