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Pixley reflects on first year, outlines priority areas for ongoing work in 2020

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Sheriff Brian Pixley stands outside the Sheriff's Office in December.This week marked the completion of Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley's first year in office.

Pixley ran for sheriff in 2018 to fill the seat vacated by long-time Sheriff Jeff Dickerson.

"I have never been in this kind of administrative role... I expected I would have more time to get out there and be a cop on patrol, and that really hasn't happened all that much because I've been inundated with housekeeping, running the office," Pixley said last week.

"My main focus is getting the deputies out there on the street... and really becoming part of the community," he said.

In between the day-to-day operations, Pixley has pushed other initiatives, like getting patrol and enforcement staff trained in hostage negotiation and preparing to renew the jail operations levy.

In a report on the October incident in which a St. Helens police officer fatally hit a suspect with a police vehicle, District Attorney Jeff Auxier wrote that the two officers involved were the only officers on duty in the entire county.

Pixley said that wasn't surprising.

"I do think it's a problem. It would be nice to have 24-hour coverage," he said.

"When I used to work for Scappoose, sometimes literally you're the only person on," he added, referencing the four years he spent as a police officer in Scappoose. "It can give you a sick feeling, depending on the type of calls that are coming in. But unfortunately, it comes down to a dollars and cents thing."

The Sheriff's Office has been consistently short staffed. Pixley said it was down two enforcement deputies and four or five corrections deputies "as far as the money that we do have."

If money wasn't an issue, Pixley said full staffing would mean 10 to 15 more enforcement deputies and six or seven more corrections deputies.

The Sheriff's Office has also been disrupted by the suspension of two jail staffers. Jail Commander Capt. Tony Weaver and Sgt. Carolyn Townsend were placed on administrative leave pending internal investigations in October.

Pixley said the issues leading to the two suspensions were separate. Townsend retired in November while the investigation was ongoing. The investigation into Weaver is continuing.

"I hate having someone sitting at home on the county's dime, but really it's no different than anywhere else," Pixley said. "As with any investigation, you want to make sure every lead is chased down."

The investigation is being completed by Lt. Steve Salle.

"If there was anyone other than Lt. Salle conducting it, I would say maybe," Pixley said when asked if he could understand concern about the investigation being carried out by a colleague.

Since taking office, Pixley has sought to improve the working relationships between agencies across the county. The agencies have updated the Major Crimes Team agreement and Use of Deadly Force plan.

"I believe the LE (law enforcement) agencies in Columbia County have been able to work better together than we have in a long time," Pixley wrote in an email last week.

Pixley also started the Hometown Heroes program to provide care packages to military personnel serving overseas. "This was a way we could really give back to those in our communities who are risking their lives to help protect us overseas," Pixley wrote.

In the second round, Sheriff's Office staff and community members packed more than 100 boxes.

Looking forward, Pixley outlined other goals for his office, including opening the county's gun range to the public. He also wants to select a deputy to serve as a community liaison for each of the unincorporated communities within the county, which would provide those community members with a specific contact when they have non-emergency concerns.

Pixley also wants to rekindle the office's relationship with the Columbia Humane Society. The office severed its contract with the humane society two years ago as a result of financial and performance issues.

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