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Community input needed in choosing new sheriff

How should an interim Jackson County sheriff be chosen, and what kind of sheriff do we need?

At the Jackson County Board of Commissioners meeting on Dec. 6 attended by more than 40 concerned residents, Commissioner Rick Dyer supported establishing a community committee to review applicants for the job and make recommendations to the three commissioners, who have the power to make the choice.

Dyer said the commissioners “need to be as inclusive as we possibly can” in seeking community input. He also said the commissioners need to “get other perspectives that may not be the same as ours.”

We couldn’t agree more.

As we all know, Sheriff Falls recently announced that for family reasons he will be taking a job as director of police services and 21st-century policing for the city of Gresham.

After being elected by an overwhelming margin in 2014, Falls has made great progress in improving the sheriff’s office and its relationship with community members. We need a replacement who will continue that progress.

Falls recognized that effective crime prevention and law enforcement depend on cooperation and support from the community. He was committed to showing all residents that their rights and safety would be protected, including racially and ethnically diverse communities, low-income individuals, LGBTQ communities, young people, and people with mental health issues or disabilities.

To carry out that commitment, Falls implemented a “community policing” approach that included new hiring policies to improve recruitment in underrepresented communities, anti-bias training to help department staff recognize and prevent biased treatment of particular groups, community-led trainings on policing that serves and protects the LGBTQ community, and outreach meetings held in Spanish to promote more effective dialogue with some local residents.

These innovations have been supported by deputies who want to do their job more effectively.

As the president of the Jackson County Sheriff Employees Association said in a recent Mail Tribune article, “We used to do just the standard training, like firearms and driving. Now we do more and cover topics like ethics and fair and impartial policing. We do more modern training than we used to.”

To build on this progress, Commissioners Rick Dyer, Colleen Roberts and Bob Strosser (who takes office at the beginning of January) should follow through on Dyer’s proposal to establish a community committee to consider the applicants.

For that exercise to be meaningful and not just window dressing, the committee must include substantial representation of the underrepresented groups with whom Falls has rebuilt trust.

While all concerned want an efficient process, the committee must have adequate time to not only read over resumes but interview the applicants to gauge their understanding and experience concerning community policing techniques. That’s the only way to be “as inclusive as we possibly can” and “get other perspectives that may not be the same as ours.”

Protecting public health and safety requires training in the best community policing practices, setting high standards, and ensuring accountability. Sheriff Falls has demonstrated that when our sheriff’s office starts to take that approach, everybody wins. Please urge our county commissioners to involve the community in keeping our sheriff’s office moving forward.

— Larissa Medina is chairwoman of the Health Equity Coalition of Southern Oregon, which includes members from La Clinica, Southern Oregon University, ACCESS, Unite Oregon, Advantage Dental, Medford School District, Latino Partnership Program, Southern Oregon Educational Services District, Oregon Health Authority, Jackson Care Connect, OHSU School of Nursing, All Care, Rogue Community Health and the Medford Police Department.