He has seen islanders at the highest and lowest times of their lives. After over 30 years of serving as a San Juan County deputy, Jeff Asher hung up his hat on Jan. 14 and retired.
“He served the county for a long time, and I wish him well,” said former San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cummings, who served as sheriff from the 1980s until 2010.
“I also want to remind him there is life after law enforcement,” he said laughing.
During his career as a deputy, Asher ran unsuccessfully for sheriff three times, most recently against Ron Krebs last November. The losses didn’t prevent Asher from serving the public wholeheartedly. That same caring attitude follows him in the wake of his resignation. Asher isn’t leaving the island any time soon, and though his last day as a deputy has come and gone, he said people still call him seeking advice or just looking to talk, and he is always more than willing to listen.
“Kind of like a priest, or life coach,” he said with a smile. “I feel like I do the most good talking to people.”
Asher received an array of Christmas cards from unexpected people. Someone he once arrested thanked him, Asher said, and told him he had changed their life.
A lifelong career in law enforcement was not his original plan. During his college years, Asher was interested in engineering, industrial design and dabbled in journalism working at the college radio station.
A ride along with police officers changed his career path.
His first job in the field was mountain law enforcement in Palo Alto, California. Asher’s duties included catching and releasing snakes – usually rattlesnakes – and working with the fire department. One time, while in the middle of one of those snake-wrangles, Asher and his partner were called to assist the fire department. As they were driving back to the city, they realized they had forgotten an important step: to release the snake.
“We looked in the back of the van, and the snake was gone, so we pulled over in rush-hour traffic,” Asher said.
But the pair could not find the rattler. Concluding that the snake got out of the van while they were talking to firefighters, they continued on their journey.
“I was looking at the traffic lights when I spotted something and followed it to the dashboard. There was the snake,” Asher said. They pulled over once again, carefully recaptured the critter, spread out along the base of the windshield, and returned to the mountains to release it.
Asher moved to the small island community of Friday Harbor in July 1985. At that time, the sheriff department was located in the Annex Building behind the post office, which now houses the health and community services department and the community development center.
“People say nothing happens in Friday Harbor,” Asher said as he shook his head, adding he has seen more than enough action during his tenure.
“Being an officer is hard on your body,” he said. He listed his own incurred injuries: a broken glass bottle to the face and broken ribs.
Aches and pains didn’t stop him from becoming a part of the sheriff’s dive team, however, or joining the San Juan County Aid Unit. Both are his life passions. Asher said one of the highlights of his career was saving the life of a man having a heart attack.
On the other side of the coin, deputies also frequently deal with death, and Asher was no exception.
“Cummings taught me a lot about how to be compassionate, respectful and patient,” Asher said. “He treated people the way I would want to be treated and followed up with them to make sure they were OK. I tried to continue that example.”
Asher explained that in a small town it is important for deputies to become invested in the community and to know the citizens.
“If you have your fingers on the pulse of the community, you know the history, who you’re dealing with, and what’s important,” Asher said.