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Former sheriff remembered as problem-solver

A former Jackson County sheriff who worked in the department for more than three decades has died.

Robert O. Kennedy, who served as Jackson County’s sheriff for two terms through 2002, is remembered as an “out of the box” thinker who was years ahead of current trends in law enforcement, according to former officers who worked Kennedy in his 33 years of law enforcement experience.

Kennedy died Wednesday at the age of 71, according to a death notice issued Friday.

Ed Mayer of Shady Cove, who worked as Kennedy’s undersheriff and rose to the rank of Captain in his 28 years at the sheriff’s office, remembers Kennedy as someone who often put others’ needs ahead of his own. For example, Kennedy gave up an opportunity to attend the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, so Mayer could go instead.

Kennedy felt that his younger upper manager was in a better position to apply lessons from the academy, according to Mayer.

“That’s an example of his unselfishness,” Mayer said.

Mayer said that Kennedy was “probably five years ahead of his time” when it came to community-oriented policing — reaching out to underserved communities and fostering communication, as well as problem-oriented policing, which seeks to address root causes of crimes.

In the past decade, the two terms have become a best-practices throughout the law enforcement industry, but Mayer said Kennedy applied many of the principles to crime in White City under his watch.

Through solutions such as bike patrols, he dramatically reduced crime in the unincorporated area, according to Mayer. News reports from when Kennedy was sheriff show that many crimes such as burglaries and thefts dropped by more than 40 percent between 1997 and 2001.

Mayer said he empowered managers to use their best thinking to achieve those types of results.

“He just charged us to go out and solve problems,” Mayer said.

Dewey Patten, who retired in 2006 and worked as a sheriff’s lieutenant under Kennedy, remembered him as “a great person to work for” and “really a nice guy” who never blew up — even when his limits were tested.

On a day near 4th of July in the late 1970s, when Kennedy was a patrol Lieutenant, Patten remembered a bottle rocket flying behind Kennedy in the middle of a nightly briefing with swing shift deputies.

Although Kennedy was shaken and startled by a firework set off by deputies working down the hall, Patten said he didn’t get mad.

“He just laughed it off,” Patten said.

Kennedy started as a sheriff’s deputy in 1969, when he was a University of Oregon pre-medical student planning to become a veterinarian, according to a 1993 profile, when Kennedy had the rank of captain. He originally joined the force planning for it to be temporary until he could raise more money, but the job hooked him.

“The first time you put a uniform on and a gun and badge, the first time you save a life or pursue a bad guy, it gets your blood going,” Kennedy said at the time. “I’ve been here ever since.”

He was promoted to corporal in 1974, Lieutenant in 1975 and Captain in 1979.

As captain, it was up to him and then-sheriff C.W. Smith to come up with creative solutions to maintain police services at a time the county was reeling from a loss of timber funds and a recession in the early 1980s, according to Mayer.

At one point in the early 1980s, patrol staff was “extremely curtailed,” from 56 down to eight deputies.

To keep service levels as high as he could, Kennedy helped develop “rural action teams” with offices in Wimer, Prospect and Ruch, where deputies could collaborate with Oregon State Police troopers.

“He was the creative leader we needed in those times,” Mayer said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Mail Tribune file photo of Bob Kennedy from 1994.