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Striking a balance

CENTRAL POINT — After his first full work week as sheriff of Jackson County, former Ashland police Deputy Chief Corey Falls says he's still getting the lay of the land. 

"The biggest thing is figuring out how things have been done in the past," he says, reclining in a chair in the sheriff's upstairs conference room. Falls, 30, succeeds former state trooper Mike Winters, who was first elected sheriff in 2002 and went on to serve three four-year terms. Winters' last term was marked by a public dispute over contract negotiations with the Sheriff's Employees Association, which later endorsed Falls in the 2014 election.

"What I'm trying to do is set up a command staff with three divisions," Falls said, explaining that not all of the department's high-ranking sworn personnel are currently being used in leadership roles. "I want to make sure that if you're at a command rank, you're leading a division."

Falls, who's spent roughly 17 years in law enforcement, worked for the Snohomish County, Wash., sheriff's office before joining the Ashland Police Department, so he has a bit of an idea of the difference between the two models, he says. Under state law, maintaining a jail is a sheriff's primary mandate, he says, followed by search and rescue and serving court papers through its civil deputies. The department's marine division is also responsible for enforcing boating laws on the county's waterways under contract with the Oregon State Marine Board.

Balancing the staff can be a tricky business. The department has seven investigative staff and roughly 40 patrol deputies, who are often scattered across the county on any given shift. The biggest difference between a patrol deputy and a city police officer, Falls says, is that a patrol deputy can't count on backup showing up within three to four minutes. "Deputies are expected to be a little bit more independent," he says.

Despite having to balance sworn personnel between various responsibilities, Falls says the department has a lot of equipment and expertise at hand that its partner agencies might not be aware of. On Thursday, Oregon State Police were able to call out the Jackson County SWAT team to deal with a man barricaded in a trailer at Valley of the Rogue State Park, instead of activating its own — a process that could have taken hours.

"Where I see room for improvement is identifying resources that we have and how they might be useful to our partners," he says.

During the 2014 election, Falls had criticized Winters' use of county deputies and private helicopters, contracted through Brim Aviation, to conduct marijuana eradication operations in neighboring counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

"We weren't getting reimbursed (by those counties) for a lot of that," he says, adding that he would like to keep the aircraft contract for use within the county, especially for search-and-rescue operations.

As far as marijuana goes, Falls says he still has to figure out how the department is going to deal with the state's legalization of recreational pot under Ballot Measure 91, which takes effect July 1. The department has one drug detection dog whose use could potentially be curtailed under the new law, and how exactly legalization will affect cartel grows in Southern Oregon's mountains has yet to be seen, he says.

"The big question, to me, is whether the cartels will enter the legal market," he says. "If you're shipping and distributing marijuana from Jackson County and it's ending up in other states, as we've seen in the past, we're going to investigate that."

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471 or tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.

Corey Falls says he is still getting the lay of the land after his first full week in office as the new Jackson County sheriff. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch