There are almost half a dozen candidates running for the office of Clatsop County Sheriff.
There are only two countywide elected offices (other than judges).
They are the sheriff and district attorneys. I’ve had the privilege of serving almost 19 years as the district attorney and Sheriff Tom Bergin is the second sheriff with whom I have served.
Being the sheriff is much more than being another cop with more stars on your shoulder. Some of Bergin’s opponents have distinguished themselves as street cops, a worthy and much-needed skill. But that skill is very different from the leadership and management necessary for the county’s chief law enforcement officer. It is for that reason that I give my unqualified endorsement to Tom Bergin and urge Clatsop County voters to keep him in office another four years.
Most striking in the platforms of some of Bergin’s challengers are those who say they are opposed to the jail measure that is appearing on the same ballot May 15. I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone familiar with how dysfunctional our jail is would not at least encourage voters to take the first opportunity in a decade to remedy a situation that has been deteriorating since I took office. I invite them - or any citizen - to come any weekday to the 1:15 p.m. custody arraignments and watch who I recommend be released almost daily.
There have been a handful of studies, costing tens of thousands of dollars, all of which concluded we needed at least 90 to 100 more beds than we currently have. You don’t want all the beds filled. The system works best when there are at least some empty beds and people on probation (and 75 percent of convicted felons do not go to prison - they are supervised locally by probation officers) will know that. In most cases the judges we elect have given them a probationary sentence and are trying to wean them off drug and/or alcohol and get them into programs for employment, anger management and substance abuse. Right now it is not uncommon for someone to test dirty several times before there is any consequence. And I’m not talking about sending someone who keeps using meth to prison for three years. That doesn’t happen. I’m talking about a “micro-sanction” of maybe five to 10 days.
Research has shown that the swiftness and certainty of consequences is more important than its severity.
Jail is very different than prison. Most of the inmates are there because they are awaiting trial either on very serious charges or they have demonstrated no ability or willingness to show up for court dates. Jails are claustrophobic, tense and potentially dangerous places ... for both inmates and staff.
I know, I worked in the Eugene Jail when I was at the University of Oregon. Bergin’s proposal, adopted by all the County Commissioners and endorsed by all the current elected county officials, is a budget-minded remodel of existing facilities. It will cost less than half of what was proposed 10 years ago when we sought to build and entirely new facility in Warrenton.
Instead it takes the current jail, moves all the sheriff’s administrative functions and patrol offices to the existing community corrections division (formerly Transition Center) and in over two years remodels and extends the jail built in the late 1970s across the current parking lot, almost doubling the bed size.
This will allow several good things. Truth in sentencing - when a judge gives a third-time DUII driver (within four to five years) 90 days, they will actually serve the time (that is the presumptive felony sentence for someone’s third DUII plus a DUII diversion within 10 years). It will mean that the programs the probation officers try to make the inmates comply with will have negative consequences if they fail to follow through.
No one wants to see our neighbors with problems fail. NInety-eight percent of them will be our neighbors soon enough, and hopefully not using meth three times a day any longer.
Bergin has shown true leadership by first merging what were literally competing programs - the jail and Community Corrections and then spearheading - often quietly over the last four years - a sensible cost-efficient remodel that is affordable. Most of us who pay property taxes will see an increase roughly equivalent of what we pay for the bus system or about 1 percent of your overall property tax bill.
Sheriff Bergin has the respect and admiration of not just the people here in Clatsop County but in Salem and his fellow sheriffs across Oregon who named him Sheriff of the Year last year.
When we have had disasters, Bergin is out there in his 4-wheel drive, winching cars out of snowbanks and delivering water to small remote communities.
Bergin is no grandstander and it would be a real shame not to continue to benefit from his straight-talking and solid common sense.
Bergin and I disagree on some political issues, but a better sheriff we could not find.
Joshua Marquis has been Clatsop County DA since 1994 and was last re-elected in 2010.