Toxic culture at DCSO?

Source: The Bulletin (October 27, 2020)

Yesterday The Bulletin ran a last-minute article about women complaining of toxic culture at the Deschutes Sheriff’s Office.  Should we voters be concerned about these complaints?  Yes, at least enough to want to know all sides of the allegations before we draw any conclusions.

Do the complaints mean we should replace Sheriff Nelson with Scott Schaier?  No.  Here’s why.

Here’s toxic culture

From 2000 through 2017, The Bulletin reported 36 cases of employee misconduct in the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.

I’ll repeat that: 36 cases of misconduct by DCSO employees, in 18 years.

During the same period, The Bulletin reported just six (6) cases of misconduct in the Bend Police Department.

The list of offenses and misconduct by those 36 DCSO employees reads like a nightmare.  It includes everything from incompetent handling of a deadly weapon (accidently firing an AR-15 rifle into a building from a moving patrol vehicle), sleeping on the job, failure to perform duties, criminal trespass, resisting arrest, violations of professional ethics, and harassment of citizens… to DUII, felony reckless driving, embezzlement, fraud, theft, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sex with children, supplying drugs to children, harassment and intimidation of deputies who reported misconduct, assault, repeated incidents of overt racism, lying under oath, and possession of cocaine.

That’s toxic culture.

Shane Nelson is ending toxic culture at DCSO — and some employees don’t like that.

Sheriff Nelson’s administration began in 2015.  Three-quarters (27) of those cases occurred in the years prior to Sheriff Nelson’s administration. 

Eleven of those 36 employees were arrested/indicted.  Nine of those 11 were prior to Nelson’s administration.

In all, misconduct occurred in 10 of the fifteen years prior to Sheriff Nelson’s administration.  Prior to his administration, there was never more than one year at a time when DCSO did not have any misconduct.

Prior to Shane Nelson’s administration, most employees who engaged in misconduct were neither arrested, fired, nor demoted.  A third were “disciplined” but sheriffs weren’t transparent and did not disclose what those “disciplinary” measures entailed.  Another quarter may not have been disciplined at all for their misconduct, judging from The Bulletin’s details of their cases.

Shane Nelson is familiar with all this misconduct, because he came up through the ranks at DCSO while the problems were exposed.  When he became Sheriff, things changed.  Nelson did not merely “discipline” deputies for misconduct – he fired people.  Primarily, supervisors and commanders.

And in the three years since 2017, The Bulletin hasn’t reported any new cases of misconduct at DCSO.

That’s the longest time that DCSO has been free of misconduct in the past two decades. And probably longer.

That’s what Sheriff Nelson has accomplished.

At a time when communities all over America are struggling with police brutality, police racism, and cop corruption, Shane Nelson has brought integrity and professionalism to the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.  In my mind, all his other accomplishments – as valuable as they are – are icing on the cake.  And none of his shortcomings are important enough to vote him out of office in light of that.

So, is Nelson perfect?  Nope.  He’s a cop.

Have members of his Citizen’s Advisory Panel (CAP) had disagreements with him?  Yes.

Am I one of those critics?  Yep.  In fact, I’m probably the toughest critic on Nelson’s Citizens Advisory Panel.  I’m no great fan of cop culture. (If you doubt my sincerity, you must be new to this blog site.)

But would I trade Sheriff Nelson for Scott Schaier?  No.  Emphatically not.

Priorities and perspective

Gender equality, hiring practices, and transparency are all important issues. Top cops everywhere need to handle these responsibilities far better than most of them do. And I include Shane Nelson in that criticism, as I have for the three years I’ve been on his CAP.

Furthermore, we – as citizens, voters, and taxpayers – have the responsibility to make sure that our top cops always meet our expectations in these regards.

But even more importantly: police brutality, racism, corruption and misconduct endanger all of us. These issues are even more immediate and more important than administrative issues.

Shane Nelson has been smart enough and tough enough to fire “bad apples” at DCSO before they’ve killed anyone.  His training and experience, his history at DCSO, and his resolve to punish misconduct all make him the right person for Sheriff.

Scott Schaier is not the right person for this job yet, no matter how good his campaign rhetoric sounds.  Schaier’s lack of experience and limited training, his hubris, his questionable judgement, and his support by disgruntled employees all attest to it.

P.S. — And this is very important !

Central Oregon citizens should not think from the statistics above that DCSO deputies are generally less professional or less honest than other cops. That isn’t true. In fact, overall, we have a very good sheriff’s office in Deschutes County, and most of our sheriff’s deputies and staff are people of very high integrity.

That’s not just a personal opinion. It’s what the statistics from The Bulletin show.

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