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Showdown for sheriff

Dickerson aims to build rapport, professionalism
by: Jeff Dickerson,

It probably should surprise no one that a man who grew up in Columbia County might think everybody ought to know his or her neighborhood police officer.

That's the way it was when Jeff Dickerson was a young man, and it is the standard he aspires to as a candidate for county sheriff. Dickerson says he wants the Sheriff's Office to be engaged with the community it serves and he has vowed to make that an integral part of the organization's culture.

The Oregon state trooper who is seeking to become the county's top law enforcement officer says if he is elected, local residents will to know whom to call if they are in trouble or need assistance. They will know their local neighborhood sheriff's deputy by name. They will recognize that person as someone who more than likely lives just down the street or around the corner, and who is visible and engaged in the community, its organizations and its institutions.

Dickerson, 47, is big on reaching out and building relationships with citizens and citizen groups. Maybe that comes from his tenure as a person who once aspired to become a Christian minister. Or maybe it comes from his experience as a trainer for his family's inspection company. Regardless, Dickerson says as the next sheriff of Columbia County he would expect his deputies to embrace the same philosophy of getting out and getting to know people in their assigned territory.

'People are going to know who their deputy is,' he said.

Community policing is nothing new in other agencies, according to Dickerson, and pay off in better rapport and cooperation between the public and law enforcement, which he said is sorely needed.

'People don't call the Sheriff's Office anymore because they don't think anyone is going to respond,'' he said, 'What they don't know is the reason why.'

Some of those reasons are budget woes, poor scheduling, operational deficiencies and a dispirited staff, but the big one is leadership -- or the lack thereof.

'There is no confidence in the Sheriff's Office,' he said. 'It boils down to an absence of leadership.'

Dickerson believes he has what it takes to restore public confidence, inspire staff, and raise the level of professionalism among the sheriff's staff. That is why he got into the race when other qualified candidates refused. Dickerson said he would start by making sure that the Columbia County Sheriff's Office is a great place to work, a place where the top executive believes in his staff and empowers them to make decisions.

Dickerson says he would dramatically increase training opportunities, set high standards of professional conduct for himself and his employees and instill in everybody a strong sense of customer service.

Dickerson has worked for the Oregon State Police for the past 19 years in a number of roles, including 10 years as a patrolman in Banks, four years as a detective assigned to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and recently as a background investigator. After a round of downsizing at OSP, Dickerson accepted an assignment at its St. Helens office and the opportunity to return to his hometown, Scappoose, where he was a standout football player and graduated from high school in 1978.

Dickerson attended the University of Oregon, where he earned a bachelor's degree in newspaper journalism. He is applying his university education in his role as editor-in-chief of Oregon State Trooper magazine. He also spent a couple of years in the 1980s working toward ordination as a Christian youth minister. Dickerson is also involved in his parents' business, Columbia Inspection Inc., which is based in Portland and has operations in Oregon, Washington, and California. The company investigates the quantities and quality of fuel oil and other chemicals for companies like Exxon, Mobile and Shell. He serves as treasurer and chief budget officer, an assignment that consists primarily of attending monthly meetings, an activity he plans to continue even if he is elected sheriff.

Dickerson said it was obvious to him early on that police work was his real calling.

'I always saw myself as a problem-solver and thought, 'How better to solve problems than in law enforcement,'' he said. He interviewed for a position with the agency in 1988, was accepted, and attended a 16-week training camp before going to work full time as a trooper.

Dickerson says he has loved every minute working for OSP and only became interested in running for sheriff when he perceived the department was in disarray and needed his help.

'The reason I'm running is about professionalism,' he said. 'Someone has got to be willing to step up.'

'Not a single chief of police in this county was willing to step up,' he added. 'I knew they wouldn't because it's a hornet's nest over there.' Dickerson said he believes the department can be turned around with the right leadership.

'They have all the pieces in place to have a professional law enforcement agency,' he said. 'I don't want to blame anybody for the condition it's in. I just want to offer my experience and begin to fill the leadership vacuum that is present at the Sheriff's Office.'

Dickerson remarried four years ago to his second wife, Barbara, who is a homemaker. The couple lives in Warren and has a 10-month-old child. Dickerson also has seven grown children from a previous marriage.