Q: What do the sheriff’s office and the hospital have in common?
A: We don’t usually think about them until we need them, and then they are suddenly our new best friends.
Most people don’t put visiting the sheriff’s office on their hit list of things to do in Hood River. However, Sheriff Matt English and his deputies and other staff are there for us every single day, all day. If we need help, they respond. It’s time that we learned more about the amazing variety of responsibilities they take care of in the sheriff’s office. They definitely earn their keep in Hood River County.
Over the years, several folks have taken a lot of dramatic photographs to illustrate some of the jobs our sheriff’s office accomplishes daily. The best of those photos have been spectacularly enlarged. During August, the enlargements will be on display at the Hood River County Library as part of the Hood River County’s Sheriff’s Office outreach program.
My husband, Dick, and I saw the enlargements when we visited the sheriff’s office last winter. He thought it would be exciting to put them into an art show. I have had some experience in art shows and publicity, so I have been working with Undersheriff Brian Rockett to bring the show about.
The sheriff’s office photo exhibit can be viewed in the downstairs meeting room of the Hood River Library during regular business hours, Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; the library is closed Sunday and Monday. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
English has been Hood River County’s sheriff since 2013; he has worked in the sheriff’s office for over 20 years, beginning as a probation officer.
The difference between an “office” and a “department,” by the way, is that the head of an office is elected. The head of a department is appointed by the county or others. An election for sheriff takes place every four years.
Our sheriff’s office is primarily responsible for public safety. To that end, they employ 19 deputies when fully staffed. There is a vacancy for a deputy right now, and English said ruefully that it’s getting really hard to find competent people to fill the post.
“The pay here is 15 percent below market, and Hood River is an expensive place to live,” he said. “Right now, we are short-handed, and in six weeks of intensive advertising there have only been 11 applicants,” he added.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the remaining deputies are now busier than ever, because the last thing English wants to do is shortchange the people of Hood River County.
“I have been given the honor and the privilege by the citizens of our county to lead a fantastic group of men and women in my office, all of whom are dedicated to public safety in all its forms,” he said.
In administration, where one woman works full time and another part time, they do fingerprinting, issue dog licenses and concealed handgun permits, create civil papers, and assist with many other projects.
“Katie Haskins has been with us a little under one year,” said English. “She’s a fantastic addition. The job requires multi-tasking, and she’s very, very good at it.”
Chief Civil Deputy Terry Bright processes legal papers such as eviction notices, subpoenas, and divorce filings. She has worked in the office since 1986 and is currently enjoying the status of having been named Civil Manager of the Year in Oregon.
There is an animal control officer, Rachel Cates. She loves animals and wants to keep them safe.
There is a parole and probation office. Those deputies work with people recently released from prison or jail, and who need help re-integrating into the community. The sheriff’s office is in charge of our 9-1-1 service, which operates under separate funding. There are about five volunteer reserve deputies. The office could use a few more volunteers in all areas to help supplement programs. In all, over 50 paid employees work in the sheriff’s office, which brings us to the painful subject of funding.
“The county as a whole has a major funding problem and they need help,” said English.
The sheriff’s office was formed in 1908, when the county was incorporated, because incorporation required that the new county have a sheriff.
Nationwide, the office of sheriff is the oldest elected county position.
English has been working hard on public relations and has been much praised for his outreach in Hood River County.
“We have received more thank yous in the past two years than I have seen in my entire career,” he said.
English is currently the president of the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association. He has taken it upon himself to visit every sheriff’s office in the state to gather input and to connect with them personally.
“It has really paid off to be part of the Sheriff’s Association,” said English.
“They have helped us over and over again in years past. I feel that, as president, I can help return the favor and give back to the group that has meant so much to our own office,” he said.
Wendy Best is a former staff writer for The Hood River News. She has retired, and now lives in Parkdale with her husband.