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Time served

Retiring Washington County sheriff is pleased with his three decades in law enforcement
by: Jaime Valdez Sheriff Rob Gordon checks in with staff in an inmate pod within the Washington County Jail on Monday.

As Rob Gordon reflects on his 32 years with the Washington County Sheriff's Office - 10 of those spent at its helm - he realizes just how much experience and accumulated wisdom contribute to his sense of success.

'Like any other job, if I had the experience then that I have today, it would be easy,' Sheriff Gordon says from his second-floor office at Washington County sheriff's headquarters in Hillsboro. 'It's the toughest job I've ever had - and the most fulfilling.'

The Cornelius-area resident the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association named 'Sheriff of the Year' in 2006 and 2008 told his staff in early October that he would retire at the end of this month.

As he approaches his final days as sheriff, Gordon, 55, is wistful but clearly comfortable in his decision to step down.

'It's sort of a weird transition,' he confesses. 'Everyone says it's stressful. I didn't believe them, but it is. It's a pretty big change in one's life. But there's also seeing what retirement's like. I'm looking forward to that.'

In addition to a simmering desire for more time to enjoy life outside of work, Gordon cited changes in the state's Public Employees Retirement System as among the reasons he's handing in his badge after 32 years of service. Recent legislative changes affect the amount of retirement benefits public officials may receive, based on their retirement date.

'I didn't want to go until I was 60,' he says. 'It was a series of events. One is the PERS bill. That's the personal side.

'On the business side, I've got a group of command officers who are very talented,' he adds. 'They're positioned to do a very good job. During this last term, I was thinking in the back of my mind how the agency would transition.

'I wanted to make sure we had leaders prepared to do that.'

Man of service

Gordon's preparations for leadership started when he abandoned his pursuit of teaching music - he didn't care to study theory - and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Assigned to jail and military police duties at the Marines' brig in Camp Pendleton, he studied behavior of both prisoners and those in charge, picking up nuances of both confinement and rehabilitation.

'You find a lot of fulfillment and accomplishment when you can take a group of people in a positive direction, where you want them to go, and (find) the antisocial people and take them in another direction,' he says.

After four years in the service, Gordon joined the Washington County Sheriff's Office in October 1979 as a corrections deputy. He worked his way up the ranks before Sheriff Jim Spinden appointed Gordon his interim successor in 2002.

Elected in 2004 to his first full term, Gordon quickly distinguished himself by leading the office to national accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

The standard brought the office into compliance with 400 standards covering areas such as policy and procedures, investigations and support services. Washington County remains the state's largest law enforcement agency, and Oregon's only sheriff's office, to hold national accreditation.

Setting standards

Gordon is also recognized for his role as chairman of a statewide group that authored the Oregon Jail Standards. The guidelines are commonly credited with helping improve local jail operations through the last decade.

'Now they're in every jail in Oregon,' he says. 'The caliber of our jails in the last decade really improved statewide.

'I'm not suggesting to take credit for all this stuff,' Gordon adds. 'There were a lot of folks involved in it.'

Washington County Undersheriff Pat Garrett, who has worked with Gordon for 23 years, credits the sheriff with raising the professional bar in the office.

'For me, Sheriff Gordon has been a great educator,' Garrett says. 'I just continue to learn from him every day. He has a knack for dissecting an issue and determining where he wants to go very quickly.'

Garrett says he and Gordon have complemented each other with their respective backgrounds.

'He grew up on the jail side of the operation, and I grew up in enforcement. In 2004, (Gordon) kicked me over to the jail side,' he notes. 'We're getting inmates ready for the transition outside, so it lowers the likelihood they're going to reoffend. And that's a tall order.'

Gordon has recommended Garrett to the state sheriffs' association for his succession.

'Pat's gonna be a great sheriff,' Gordon says. 'He's a very smart man, experienced, well credentialed and well thought of internally here. I think I'll leave the office in very good hands with Pat.'

Keeping it cool

Todd Anderson, who retired last month as Tillamook County sheriff after 10 years, says he's admired Gordon since the late '70s when they worked together at the Washington County Jail.

'He was very thoughtful in his decision making, and very innovative in how he moved the Washington County Sheriff's Office forward,' Anderson says of his colleague. 'He's leaving a great legacy there.

'He's made great contributions to the Oregon sheriffs' association leadership statewide,' Anderson adds. 'He's just so well rounded.'

The thoughtful approach Anderson refers to comes through in Gordon's confidently low-key demeanor. The outgoing sheriff says that calm aura has served him well in a role whose challenges have grown along with the county's booming population.

'I found through experience that you don't have to run to too many problems,' Gordon quips. 'I don't know where that came from, but I've always been a quiet person. I've learned a lot more by listening than talking.'