Nou says he can 'step in and hit the ground running' if elected sheriff | San Juan County Sheriff

Sheriff candidate Rob Nou listens to a question being presented at a meet-and-greet Sept. 15 at the China Pearl Restaurant.
Sheriff candidate Rob Nou listens to a question being presented at a meet-and-greet Sept. 15 at the China Pearl Restaurant. 'I'm very well-prepared, I'm well-trained, and I can step in and hit the ground running,' he said.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Sheriff candidate Rob Nou told a meet-and-greet at the China Pearl Restaurant Sept. 15 that he can step into the position of sheriff and "hit the ground running."

"There's not a lot that the Sheriff's Office does that I'm not familiar with," said Nou, a former Oregon police chief and sheriff's sergeant who is now a deputy on Lopez Island. "I'm very well-prepared, I'm well-trained, and I can step in and hit the ground running."

Nou was the top finisher in the Aug. 17 primary. He faces Lead Detective Brent Johnson in the Nov. 2 general election. Johnson will participate in a meet-and-greet at the China Pearl at noon on Sept. 22. Both will participate in a Journal-sponsored sheriff candidates forum Sept. 28, 5 p.m., in the San Juan Community Theatre’s Gubelman Room. The League of Women Voters is hosting a candidates forum in Friday Harbor Oct. 15.

Nou and Johnson have had similar career experiences and both are involved in the community. Nou is 51 with 29 years of law enforcement experience; Johnson is 55 with 35 years of experience. Both have undergraduate degrees in law enforcement-related fields. Both have been administrative sergeants who led special assignments and details.

But Nou said he's had a different level of experience that sets him apart. 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 as the "de facto" police chief in two communities that contracted with the sheriff's department for law enforcement protection, and he led a city police department and ran the 911 center in one of the largest counties geographically in the U.S.

"I've led a law enforcement agency. I've run a 911 center. I've fought the budget fights," he said.

Nou was with the Yamhill County, Ore., Sheriff's Department from 1981-2004; and was chief of police of Burns, Ore. from 2004-08. He 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.

Nou 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. "I've made a deliberate effort to be more than a one-dimensional cop, and to get to know people on different levels."

Coalition coordinator Martha Sharon said of Nou's involvement: "We started meeting in the spring of 2008 and he's been involved from the get-go. We kind of bounce things off of him, he gives us the law's view of the prevention scene. It's helped us to think that the Sheriff's Department is supportive (of the coalition's efforts)."

In March, Nou participated in a community drumming activity at Lopez School, and even danced with students and teachers, Sharon said.

Nou talked about his community involvement and his law enforcement experience, and answered questions about areas he thought the Sheriff's Department could improve on.

His experience: Among his experiences, as a Yamhill County, Ore., sheriff’s officer he led a multi-agency team that investigated traffic collisions and worked on transportation safety projects and did traffic safety education in schools. As police chief, he established a Safe Communities and Safe Kids Coalition that did traffic safety education and made child safety seats available at cost to the community.

Law enforcement issues in the community: Nou said they are drug abuse, alcohol, and domestic violence. Regarding one resident’s perception that local drug problems are not adequately pursued, Nou said “knowing and proving 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.

Issues in the department: With deputies on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands, the department currently feels like three departments, Nou said. From October to May, he would have deputies and sergeants work two shifts a month on an island other than their own. “They would get to know the culture, the people, the flavor of policing on that island,” he said. “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.”

Fitness: Nou was asked why local officers couldn't catch Colton Harris-Moore, the teen serial burglary suspect ultimately arrested in the Bahamas. Nou said the department put on a "full court press" in an attempt to catch Harris-Moore, including bringing in the FBI.

Why did the suspect escape? "He's 19 years old, 6 foot 5, in good shape. And he had a lot of incentive to not get caught," Nou said.

But Nou was cautious when asked to assess the fitness of the department. He said the deputies’ contracts include a fitness incentive. What can the sheriff do to improve the fitness of his employees? Nou said the sheriff can encourage better fitness and lead by example. (The current sheriff, Bill Cumming, is a competitive racquetball player.) Personally, Nou said he put a bike rack on his patrol car and periodically patrols on bike. “There’s a health benefit, and we save money,” he said.

Sheriff’s Department budget: Nou said the department could save money by changing how it does some things. More training could be done on the island instead of on the mainland; he would identify what training skills the department has in house. He wants improved training on case law and search and seizure.

About three-fourths of the budget is devoted to salaries and benefits. “Those are fixed costs. I’d hate to see it come down to cutting staff.” He said several officers are retiring or retiring soon, and that should lower personnel costs.

Where he lives: If elected, Nou said he would move to San Juan Island.

The election: Nou is in the race to win. “But at the end of the day, we will have a new sheriff. And we will work together.”

Age: 55.
Website: http://brentjohnsonforsheriff.blogspot.com.

Current position: Lead detective, San Juan County Sheriff's Department, 2002-.

Education: Associate of applied science in law enforcement, Albuquerque Tech Institute; bachelor of science in criminal justice, Wayland Baptist University.

Career: U.S. Air Force security police, 1973-79; field sergeant, administrative sergeant, investigative sergeant, Albuquerque Police Department, 1979-2000; lead investigator, Bernalillo County District Attorney's Office, 2000-01; officer, University of Washington Police, 2001-02.

Current community involvement: Co-coordinator, FireWise program; board member, Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services; chairman, San Juan County Veterans Advisory Board; volunteer firefighter.

Voters guide statement (unedited): My family and I have lived in the San Juans since the sheriff hired me as Lead Detective eight years ago, and have seen changes both in our community and public safety needs.

I have 35 years in law enforcement — 13 in supervisory positions — a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, am a volunteer with the Island Red Cross, a volunteer fire fighter, a co-coordinator with Fire Wise, a board member with Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services, and Chair of the SJC Veteran's Advisory Board.

In the current economy, we need an experienced focus on public safety, zero tolerance for crime, conserving taxes and County budget, maximizing training and skills for Deputies, expanding state and federal partnerships for more resources, keep our young people positively motivated, respecting families and seniors, and building on the outstanding legacy of our Sheriff's Dept. that has helped keep our County safe, hospitable, and progressive.

* * *

Age: 51.
Website: www.robnou4sheriff.com.

Current position: Deputy, San Juan County Sheriff's Department, 2008-.

Education: Associate's degree in administration of justice, Los Angeles Valley College; bachelor’s degree, Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University); 162nd session of the FBI National Academy.

Career: Deputy, detective, field training officer, Yamhill County Sheriff's Department, 1981-86; sergeant, administrative sergeant, Yamhill County Sheriff's Department, 1986-2004; chief of police, Burns, Ore., 2004-08.

Current community involvement: Volunteer firefighter and EMT on Lopez Island; member, Lopez Island Prevention Coalition.

Voters guide statement (unedited): You, the voters of San Juan County, are making an important decision — who will lead your sheriff's office as Sheriff Cumming retires? As your next sheriff, I recognize and respect the "Islands' way of life." Each island community has its own culture and personality. Each poses unique challenges in providing the service and protection that you deserve.

As a deputy sheriff on Lopez Island, I make my home there and am part of the fabric of the community. I'm a volunteer firefighter, an EMT, and a member of the Lopez Island Prevention Coalition. I believe in working collaboratively with the community. Shoulder to shoulder we can overcome any challenge. Together we make a difference.

A police officer for 28 years, 20 years in management. Exceptional training, proven leadership. Committed to preserving the "Islands' way of life." Well qualified and prepared to lead. Elect Rob Nou, San Juan County Sheriff.

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