Elections

Johnson says his experience is 'what sets us apart' | San Juan County Sheriff

Sheriff candidate Brent Johnson speaks at a meet-and-greet Sept. 22 at the China Pearl Restaurant. He said fighting drug and alcohol problems requires a
Sheriff candidate Brent Johnson speaks at a meet-and-greet Sept. 22 at the China Pearl Restaurant. He said fighting drug and alcohol problems requires a 'triangle' of treatment, education and law enforcement.
— image credit: Richard Walker

This version adds information in the 23rd paragraph, clarifying that a police chief's technique to get things done was the chief's, not Johnson's.

Brent Johnson and Rob Nou have experience as sheriff’s officers and as city cops. But Johnson said his big city experience – as a police sergeant in populous Albuquerque, N.M. – sets him apart as the more qualified candidate for sheriff.

Johnson worked as a sergeant for a department that fielded 40,000 calls for service a month. He regularly supervised a squad of eight to 10 officers -- prioritizing, delegating and motivating in a demanding environment.

“No one in this department has that type of experience,” he said. “That's what sets us apart.”

Johnson, San Juan County sheriff’s lead detective, faces Nou – a sheriff’s deputy and former Oregon police chief – on the Nov. 2 ballot.

At a meet-and-greet in the China Pearl Restaurant Sept. 22, Johnson reviewed his law enforcement experience – and told of big-city police tools that the local department can use to let suspects and possible suspects know they are being watched.

He wants to train deputies in Terry stops, described online as “brief detention of a person by police on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity but short of probable cause to arrest.” “Knock and talks” at a suspect or possible suspect’s house is another tool, as are traffic stops and parking in front of a suspect or possible suspect’s house, he said.

Training officers in new techniques and defending the sheriff’s budget against further cuts are two of Johnson’s priorities.

With 75 percent of the budget set aside for pay and benefits, there’s not much else that can be cut other than personnel. He said the department can handle drug investigations with two detectives – “We could use another detective for drug investigations. But can we handle it with two, yes,” he said – but he fears losing a detective position with another cut.

“It’s a fundamental responsibility of government to provide for the safety of its people,” he said. “The County Council has to know that the Sheriff’s Department is different than any other organization.”

Johnson wants to update the department’s standard operating procedures; develop in-house training and evaluation of employees (“I haven’t been evaluated in six years,” he said); and cut costs by putting short-term inmates, like DUIs, on work crew and home monitoring, which the inmate pays for.

Johnson said he would visit other islands as sheriff. He has a busy volunteer schedule, and some of those activities take him to other islands. He’s a District 3 firefighter, a Red Cross volunteer, co-coordinator of the Firewise program, treasurer of Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Services, and chairman of the San Juan County Veterans Advisory Board, which assists indigent veterans.

If elected sheriff, Johnson said he’ll scale back his volunteer activities, sticking with Firewise and wildland firefighting (he said he needs to qualify for the latter).

Anita Castle, executive director of DVSAS, said Johnson has been an active, valuable board member.

“We work very well together,” she said. “He’s the detective who investigates (domestic violence sexual assault). He’s very professional and very understanding. When something is reported here and it looks like there’s enough information for an investigation, he'll come to our office on Orcas and do the interview. He also refers people to us for advocacy support.

“Brent is very sympathetic and compassionate when it comes to kids. And after years of this kind of work, he doesn't seem to be cynical or jaded.”

Regarding patrols to enforce killer whale protection laws, he said state Fish and Wildlife patrols “one to two times a month,” and National Marine Fisheries Service patrols once a month. If the county could find $10,000 to $12,000 a year, possibly from a private non-profit source, the sheriff’s department could “spread it out” and provide additional patrols. He’d like to have a whale expert on the boat so whales can be positively identified as those under federal protection.

He didn’t mention Nou by name, but discounted his opponent’s idea of having deputies periodically work shifts on other islands so they can get to know those islands, the people and the culture. He said doing so would require overtime or reduced hours in order to accommodate ferry travel.

“If you want to know the other islands, go visit them,” he said. “We have some great mapbooks and they're in color.”

First learned management at Kmart
Johnson said he cut his teeth as a manager when he was a teenager working for Kmart. The company saw his potential, he said, sent him to management courses, and promoted him to manager of the garden and toys departments.

He went into the U.S. Air Force and became a military police officer, rose to the rank of sergeant, and was one of 16 – out of a field of 35,600 -- selected for one-year assignment at the Pentagon.

After leaving the service, he joined the Albuquerque Police Department, “learned the ins and outs of being a detective” in the city’s so-called “war zone,” and became a trainer at the police academy.

He said APD was one of the first three departments in the U.S. to implement a D.A.R.T. team; nightly, the team fielded about 10 domestic violence sexual assault calls and made five arrests. Other assignments: the Crimes Against Children Unit, the rape crisis center, the D.A.R.E. program, Gang Resistance Education and Training, and gang intelligence.

As an investigator for the District Attorney’s office, he reviewed cases and had the authority to send them back to officers if he felt they were incomplete. He said the officers’ supervisors didn’t always like that; he called it “getting things done by embarrassment."

(Johnson said in a later e-mail: "While still a member of the Albuquerque Police Department and while working in the District Attorney Liaison Unit (a partnership between our two departments) I did review all felony cases for completeness. The Chief of Police would use my stats to "get things done by embarrassment" which was his technique, not mine. This was not something I approved of nor did many other supervisors. Luckily this particular Chief was only with APD for four years.")

While in Albuquerque, Johnson was nominated for investigator of the year. He joined the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department in 2002 after a brief stint with the University of Washington Police.

“With my training, education and experience, I have a great foundation to be your sheriff. I know I'll do a great job for you,” he told the meet-and-greet.

CANDIDATES AT A GLANCE
BRENT JOHNSON
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.

* * *

ROB NOU
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 29 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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