Washington County sheriff candidates face off at forum
Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett faces a sergeant in the May 19 primary in his first contested election in three terms.
Garrett has spent his entire 32-year law enforcement career with the office, becoming sheriff in November 2011. He was unopposed in 2012 and 2016.
He faces Sgt. Red Wortham, who joined the office in 2004 after two years in community corrections. Wortham would not be the first woman elected sheriff in Oregon; Diana Simpson was Benton County sheriff, elected twice, from 2007 until she retired mid-term in 2013.
Both spoke at a recent Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce candidate forum. The candidate who wins a majority for the nonpartisan office in the primary is considered elected under the county charter.
"I decided to run because it was important for me to give the voters a choice for this office," Wortham said.
When county commissioners approved the annual budget in June 2019, Wortham called for more deputies to staff the 572-bed jail in Hillsboro — she's spent most of her career there — and fewer deputies on patrol or other duties.
"It is my belief there are too many within the sheriff's office — too many full-time uniformed deputies — assigned to administrative positions," she said. "I believe we can return some of those people to the road for direct service."
She said the sheriff's office has been run the same way it has for virtually all of the county's 175-year history, and faces challenges in recruiting and retaining staff.
But Garrett, who oversees more than 400 uniformed officers and almost 200 other staff, said it's no accident his office is one of the leading law enforcement agencies in Oregon. Only the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County sheriff employ more uniformed officers in the metro area.
"I want to build on our success in maintaining high professional standards, increasing community trust, and making Washington County the safest major urban county in Oregon," Garrett said.
Since 2004, the Sheriff's Office has won recognition from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The others in Oregon are Albany and Corvallis police.
It draws its budget from the county general fund — largely property taxes — plus a share of a countywide public safety levy that is due for a five-year replacement on May 19, and another levy for the Sheriff's Enhanced Patrol District, which covers about 200,000 people in urban unincorporated communities. The latter levy, which provides for more deputies as the population grows, was renewed in 2017.
The proposed public safety levy would generate more money for four jail deputies, prosecution and supervision of offenders including those accused of domestic violence and child abuse, and shelter and rehousing services for survivors of domestic violence. Garrett was among the officials who helped devise a phase-in plan so that the proposed levy — at 47 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, up from the current 42 cents — could pay for the additional services over time.
While Garrett has been sheriff, the office has created two mental health teams — each one consisting of a deputy and a clinician — to help deputies and city police respond to people in crisis.
Garrett sits on the state Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission.
Both candidates acknowledge that Washington County, like most others, need more addiction treatment and mental health services, and supportive housing. Both say many inmates need such services, but jail ends up being the last resort for them.
"They are spending the most amount of time in jail," Wortham said.
The candidates differed about the timeliness of sheriff's social media responses to crimes in progress.
"What I would like to see changed is that we have more of a direct response," Wortham said. "There seems to be a lag in waiting for approval of those messages or responding."
But Garrett said the Sheriff's Office already has an extensive social media network: 46,000 likes on Facebook, 28,000 following on Twitter, and 146,000 members on the Nextdoor app, which allows private communications among neighbors and with law enforcement.
In addition, Garrett said, sheriff's participation in community events averages once every three days over a year.
"We have pushed out a lot of information," he said. "It's quick. It's timely."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.