Transition time: Here's what's next for San Juan County's sheriff-elect

From left, Lopez Island Fire Chief Jim Ghiglione pins a party-favor sheriff
From left, Lopez Island Fire Chief Jim Ghiglione pins a party-favor sheriff's badge on Rob Nou, after election results showed Nou with a commanding lead in the race for sheriff, Nov. 2.
— image credit: Anne and George Willis

Nov. 3, the day after the election, was Sheriff-elect Rob Nou's day off, and he was looking forward to heaving "a really big sigh of relief the whole campaign is over with and done, then gearing up to start working toward a smooth transition."

His work will begin soon.

Nou, a Lopez Island sheriff's deputy and former Oregon police chief and administrative sheriff's sergeant, received 4,113 votes to Lead Detective Brent Johnson's 2,183. County Auditor F. Milene Henley said Tuesday that Nou had 64 percent of the vote and didn't expect that to change.

Nou takes office Jan. 10. He and Sheriff Bill Cumming, who is retiring after six terms, will attend the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Nov. 16-18 at Campbell's Resort, Lake Chelan.

Nou said he will meet with Cumming to become familiar with the budget, get to know the key players in the community, and "get to know the staff better within the sheriff's office."

"I know who everybody is, but as far as on a deeper level, not really," he said, referring to his having been stationed on Lopez Island. "I want to get a sense of what resources we really have within the Sheriff's Office — people's skills, abilities, training background, special interests, goals, and figure out how to accomplish a smooth and orderly transition."

Cumming said Nou will help recruit a deputy to replace him on Lopez Island. As winter nears, Nou will participate in meetings with the town and county Department of Emergency Management. In the meantime, Nou will be looking for a new residence on San Juan Island.

Cumming, who called to congratulate his successor after the election results were posted, said the transition will be a busy time. "I will be totally available. He will probably be in and out of my office very frequently ... We will be going over the budget in detail, how we arrived at certain numbers, what to expect. And I'm sure he will be strategizing how to operate within that budget."

Here's what to expect when Nou takes office:

Nou said he will start a strategic planning process to develop a "roadmap to the future" for the next five years. "That needs to happen fairly quickly," he said before the election. "One of the biggest things is trying to establish good lines of communication within the organization." Nou said the five-year plan would be a yardstick by which to measure the department’s performance and would be “transparent.”

The message he got from voters is "they are concerned about how the Sheriff's Office does business, the way we train and work with each other," he said. Islanders are concerned about alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence. At a campaign event, one resident said there's a perception that local drug problems are not adequately pursued, and Nou said, “Knowing (drugs are being sold) and proving it are two different things.” He said leads about drug problems should be addressed as they come in, and that the Sheriff’s Department can put a uniformed presence in neighborhoods where problems may exist.

During the campaign, Nou said he wants deputies and sergeants to work two shifts a month on an island other than their own during the slower months so they "would get to know the culture, the people, the flavor of policing on that island. It would improve communication in the department. We need to be confident that if called to an emergency on another island, we’d know where to go.”

Nou wants to bring deputies from all three islands together for training a couple of times a year. More training could be done on-island instead of on the mainland; he wants to identify what training skills the department has in house and wants improved training on case law and search and seizure. He said the department's policy and procedures manual will be updated to reflect the latest legal standards.

Regarding the budget, Nou said the department could save money by changing how it does some things, like training. There are efficiencies that can be accomplished across the board; for example, leased vehicles arrive new and outfitted with the latest technology, without the investment of a new-car purchase. Nou wants the budget to be more accessible and understandable to employees and the public.

During the campaign, Nou said the sheriff must help policy makers understand that the Sheriff's Department provides an essential service that the county must provide by law; the department cannot afford to lose sworn officers.

"I don't know that it's in the public's best interest to cut law enforcement in favor of a non-essential service," he said at the time. He said several officers are retiring soon and that should lower personnel costs.

The sheriff serves a four-year term and earns $97,514 a year. The sheriff manages a staff of 36 full-time employees and a budget of $2.3 million, which includes: $719,219, dispatch; $472,888, Enhanced E-911; $398,920, jail; and $209,615, Emergency Management.

About the new sheriff
Nou is 51 and has two sons.

Nou has an associate's degree in administration of justice from Los Angeles Valley College, and a bachelor’s degree from Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University). He graduated from the FBI National Academy, an elite program that not only gave him 10 weeks of advanced training but also connects him to “a great wealth of knowledge and ideas” in his classmates.

He served with the Yamhill County, Ore., Sheriff's Department from 1981-2004; and as chief of police of Burns, Ore., 2004-08. As an administrative sergeant in Yamhill County, he served as the "de facto" police chief in two communities that contracted with the department for law enforcement protection. He led a multi-agency team that investigated traffic collisions, conducted transportation safety projects and promoted traffic safety education in schools. As police chief, he ran the 911 center in one of the largest counties in area in the U.S. He established a Safe Communities and Safe Kids Coalition that promoted traffic safety education and made child safety seats available at cost to the community.

Nou said he moved to Lopez Island in 2008 because "life intervened." He was going through a divorce, he had some health issues, he was tired of the harsh desert weather and isolation. He jumped right into island life, becoming a volunteer firefighter and EMT and a member of the Lopez Island Prevention Coalition. He provided input in the grant-writing process that led to a grant of $125,000 a year for five years for the coalition's drug prevention programs.

"I love what I do on Lopez," he said during the campaign. "I've made a deliberate effort to be more than a one-dimensional cop, and to get to know people on different levels."

Notebook: Sheriff Bill Cumming, who retires Jan. 10 after 24 years in office, said he will continue to be involved in the community after he leaves office. He is an elected commissioner of Island Rec, and is a competitive racquetball player; he won a bronze medal at the U.S. Open Racquetball Championships, Oct. 20-24 in Minneapolis, Minn.

Cumming is 62.

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