EDITOR’S NOTE: We are so fortunate to have Neal Lemery as a Pioneer contributor with his legal and law background was the perfect choice to interview the candidates for Tillamook County Sheriff. Here’s his in-depth interview. We are participating in a virtual candidate’s forum with the sheriff’s candidates on Friday Oct. 2nd and will post the recorded Q&A on the Pioneer’s YouTube Channel.
By Neal Lemery, For the Tillamook County Pioneer
The two candidates for Tillamook County Sheriff, Josh Brown and Gordon McCraw, responded to the following questions, in far-ranging interviews. The Sheriff’s race is the only contested race for county-wide offices on the November ballot, and is a non-partisan, four year position.
What is your understanding of the Defund the Police movement? What are your responses to those ideas?
Gordon McGraw: This is a hot topic. All these services are necessary to keep police services. Where these cuts have been made, crime is up. Any cuts will have an impact.
“I can’t see reducing funding to police that will improve policing.”.
“As long as you are looking for bad things, will only see bad things.”
Josh Brown: “There are both extreme and legitimate ideas being discussed. Generally, there are ideas to pull some funds from police, to support social worker roles. We need to be very careful in how we move forward.”
As a patrol officer working night shift, Brown often responds to situations involving mental health crises and potential and actual violence, the full range of challenges. Patrol officers are trained on how to effectively respond. He appreciates and fully supports that training, both at the Police Academy and locally, which has made police officers more effective and skilled. The Academy requires officers to interact with numerous role-playing scenarios.
Tillamook County has a mobile response team of mental health professionals who are available to respond. This approach is useful and productive as a welcome partnership. Sometimes, police officers aren’t the most effective response. The Response Team is not a defunding but a necessary addition to law enforcement responding to challenging situations.
“The Response Team is a huge asset. I want to bolster that success. Our local officers help each other and work well together.
“The Sheriff’s office has an outstanding chaplaincy program. They are amazing and quickly respond to a variety of challenging and often tragic situations.
“I know the needs. I’m out there and I experience the needs for informed, well-trained officers. Our lives and the lives of others depend on it.”
How will you address racism both in law enforcement and throughout the community?
Josh Brown: “I pay attention. I know racism still exists. We must deal with all people. I don’t believe in racism. Everyone needs to be and deserves to be treated equally. If I came across racism, I would deal with it immediately. Yet, racism gets hidden and people can also easily make assumptions. We are all human and I strive to treat everyone nicely.”
Gordon McGraw: “I haven’t seen any racism in the Sheriff’s office. I won’t tolerate it and I would investigate it thoroughly. We have not had any complaints about officers and racism.”
In McGraw’s administration, officers would get any necessary training, and make officers the best they can be.
What is the role of law enforcement in dealing with homelessness in Tillamook County?
Josh Brown: “Homelessness is far worse than people realize, and much of the homeless population live in our forests. The role of law enforcement can’t just be enforcement. The issue is complex, as a lot of people choose to be homeless and take advantage of free benefits. Some don’t want to get a job and are unwilling to change their lives, and they often simply move on.
“Some sincerely want to change their lives, and making a change often takes a lot of time with a number of agencies. I see a wide range of situations and challenges, and solutions are complicated.
Brown wonders if enacting a county ordinance banning squatting in public areas would be effective. But writing a ticket is often not an effective remedy.
Abandoned vehicles can be towed, but the towing company is required to give a 30 day waiting period. They aren’t interested in towing if the car is a junker, as there is no market to sell junked cars to pay for the tow bill. In some situations, the Sheriff’s department pays for the tow, putting the burden on the taxpayer.
Gordon McGraw: Homelessness is a serious issue. The Sheriff’s office has partnered with CARE and Helping Hands to provide warming shelters, housing and other needed services. Helping Hands has expanded but “we have more need than room.”
What do you see as the future of mental health and drug courts in Tillamook County?
Gordon McGraw: Other counties with drug and mental health courts look successful on paper, but their statistics don’t reflect follow up.
Our jail has been the mental health facility in the county, but now our mental health court is up and running. Tillamook County Family Counseling (TFCC) and Adventist Health are now responding and teaming up with police on situations. In the past, TFCC has had a staff person assigned to the jail and that position needs to be filled now.
Josh Brown: The concept of specialty, alternative courts is a good idea. Our mental health issues are very challenging, and I am very supportive of our Response Teams and our partnership with Adventist Health and Tillamook County Family Counseling has given law enforcement additional resources. Arresting someone who is in a mental health crisis is not often the best approach.
What do you see as the role for the jail in our community?
Gordon McGraw: “It would be great if people didn’t reoffend. We don’t want ‘inmate out, inmate in’. We want people to be successful.”
The jail has partnered with Tillamook Bay Community College to help inmates obtain their GED. There is also a partnership with the county health department to help inmates working in the kitchen to obtain their food handlers card.
Josh Brown: Brown has worked in our jail both as a volunteer and for seven years as a corrections deputy. Part of his patrol duties require him to arrest and lodge offenders, including a large number of DUII arrests.
“I see a lot of ‘cycling’ of people through the jail. Many defendants don’t have a desire to fix their problems. Learning how you get to a point in your life where you end up in jail is the first step. Our jail invites Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and church organizations into the jail.
“The jail has been understaffed and we need to support an active inmate work crew.
“The predominant help is probation. I need to explore what works. The focus should be on reducing violations and less on punishment. Yet, repeat offenders often don’t have jobs. How we use the jail is an important conversation to have with the community.”
Do you advocate community policing as a policy in local law enforcement?
Gordon McGraw: “When I worked at the Gretna, Louisiana (a suburb of New Orleans) police department, we had community policing, funded by a property tax levy. That was successful, but you need to have funding.”
McCraw would continue his periodic updates to local media and keep people informed.
He would also like to look at a citizens’ academy to educate people on law enforcement principles and get them involved. He would also like to reinstate the reserves program, especially in the summer, when our population of 24,000 increases by up to 100,000 visitors. The Sheriff’s office is currently staffed for our resident population, but additional officers are needed to handle all the tourists.
“It is important to educate youth on the role of law enforcement.”
Josh Brown: Community policing is taught at the Academy, and the law allows an officer to secure property. Brown believes this philosophy helps the community. Safeguarding people’s homes is very satisfying work.
“I want to bring back our officer reserve program. I want to have community meetings and forums on the significant issues people are concerned about in our county. There is a need for police to educate the community and have the community understand basic law enforcement concepts.
“The community often sees what we officers aren’t able to see. When I work my night shift, I am constantly on the go and I can’t be everywhere.”
Brown believes that school resource officers are useful and funding for that work needs to be a priority.
How can the community and law enforcement most effectively deal with crime and rehabilitating criminals?
Josh Brown: “Your other questions touched on this subject. I won’t try to repeat myself. Any approach to these issues needs to recognize that this is complicated. Solutions are intertwined and require a variety of approaches and partnerships.
“I handle a lot of DUII (driving under the influence of intoxicants) cases, a crime that is very preventable. Many people see DUIIs as a socially acceptable crime, and I reject that thinking. My passion on working DUII cases is to make the road safer, and not just put people in jail.”
Brown is a state certified instructor for other officers on administering the standardized field sobriety tests that are used in investigating DUII cases.
Gordon McGraw: “We are here to help people be successful. We need to keep honest people honest. We need additional drug counseling, education and job training.”
What do you hope to accomplish in the next four years?
Josh Brown: Brown believes an effective Sheriff should often be found out in the community and staying connected with the community he serves. “A healthy Sheriff’s department that is deeply involved and connected with our community is an essential part of a healthy community. We need to be having deep conversations about the issues facing young people and the entire community.
“Well informed and well-trained police officers are fundamental elements of a well-run Sheriff’s Department. I want the Sheriff’s Department to be team-oriented and for us to be strong partners with other community organizations.
“I am a lifelong resident of Tillamook County and have raised my family here. I’ve coached football and baseball for over ten years. I’ve seen many of our young people achieve stability and develop strong, healthy values because of the influence of healthy adults in our community.”
“I’m a lifelong learner, a coach, a teacher, a husband and a father. My colleagues tell me I’m a good listener and I’m compassionate. My fifteen years as a patrol deputy and a jail deputy in this county have given me the street smarts and hands on knowledge to be an effective Sheriff. I want an open, comfortable organization that the public trusts and looks up to. Transparent.”
Gordon McGraw: “I want to support and expand the Tillamook Narcotics Team, which has been active and productive.”
The Sheriff’s office now has a full time detective assigned to child abuse and domestic violence case, which is funded by a federal grant. That needs to continue.
“We only have three deputies for each shift, for the entire county. The Oregon State Police staff has been reduced to four positions.”
“I’d also like to see the Pacific City area fund additional law enforcement services, like the current model of support we have with the City of Garibaldi.”
Adding a police dog would also be helpful for search and rescue and for drug enforcement.
Why are you the right candidate for our next Sheriff?
Josh Brown: “I’ve lived in this community my whole life and I am deeply involved in community life here. I’m an experienced and well-trained officer. I bring not only my knowledge of law enforcement but my knowledge of and relationships with people to the job.
“I’m a good listener. I’m deeply passionate about the issues facing law enforcement and the community.
Brown says that the people in his patrol area appreciate his working knowledge of the community, local issues and local concerns. He is well respected and known for his ability to listen and to connect people with the resources they need to address their needs.
“Those are transferable skills, and the Sheriff’s Department and the community deserve to have a Sheriff who is approachable, knowledgeable and skilled at working together with the entire community.”
Gordon McGraw: “I will build on existing relationships. Relationships are crucial to the work of the Sheriff. I already have strong working relationships with other agencies, legislators, business, and other elected officers, locally, statewide, and with the federal government. I will bring my experience as a manager for numerous law enforcement activities to the job.”