On November 2nd, Criminal Justice Degree Schools interviewed Sheriff Glenn Palmer on His Career, Issues Facing Grant County and Career Advice. Sheriff Palmer is a third-term Sheriff in rural Grant County Oregon. Like other rural counties dependent on timber and tourism, it faces challenges that impact how the Sheriff Department pursues its mission.
Why and how did you get into law enforcement and become a Sheriff?
My Mother was a 911 dispatcher for 20+ years and so I had exposure to law enforcement. I was in the Air Force from 1980-1984. Just after returning, I had 3 or 4 part time jobs including in the timber industry until a group of us was laid off due to being snowed out for the season. As I was in job search mode, I happened to poke my head in the Sheriff's office to ask about a job. On the spot, I was asked if I could work that night in the jail and I did after receiving some basic instructions. So, it was a fluke of sorts, but the next day I was sworn in as a Correction Deputy and a reserve patrolman in the city of John Day Oregon. I will say that night was not great as I had never been in a jail before. But over the next 15 years I went from part-time corrections officer, to Deputy Patrol, to Senior Patrolman and finally to sheriff.
How did you run for Sheriff?
I felt it was a job I could do well. It is position of great responsibility as you are put there by the vote of the citizens. I have had the honor of being reelected twice since.
What is your proudest moment in law enforcement?
I can't pick one thing really. However, what sticks out was a time at John Day Police Department when a Dispatcher had a heart attack. I was able to revive him – he was a good friend with a heart condition. He lived for another 7 years. Second, I have always wanted to recover an abducted child and I was able to do this from a troubled mother who absconded with a child. It took 7 days and we got the child out of harm's way as the mother had some serious drug related problems and was exposing the child to a very bad crowd. It took some work to track her down, but we did it. And of course being reelected twice and earning the people's trust is something I am very proud of.
For those considering a law enforcement career, do you recommend an advanced degree and why?
It is important to get a college education for a couple reasons. First, people watching TV often get the wrong idea of law enforcement. People don't always last in this career and so a fallback is good to have just in case. For those staying, the education can help them be more effective in the job. I need someone who can do a good job of writing logically laid out reports – you have to be articulate in doing police work. Note these benefits from education benefit both the patrol and corrections side. I need dependable people who can do a good, reliable job. In getting an advanced degree, I know the requisite skills are covered well.
How challenging is the current environment?
We are doing all right now actually. We have outsourced beds to Federal Marshal's Office, Immigrations and the state for a while — this gave us a boost on funds. We did add a deputy on contract recently. We have tried to optimize how we patrol by handling issues on the phone or the next day. We have a call matrix so maybe a cold burglary can wait until the next day or a barking dog doesn't require an immediate visit. While the people want to see us immediately they understand the tradeoff in waiting. We have to stay ahead of the need to cut budget as it will otherwise be headcount when cuts are needed. We also made cuts in the jail kitchen, for example, where there is no nutritional value – so spices, etc. We have had to shop out of town to save – a difficult choice as I would prefer the money to circulate in the community, but it saves so much to buy in bulk. We saved $40k in that first year – and I did try to offer it locally, but it didn't work out. I am forced to use my tax dollars as effectively as possible. We also have a commissary that inmates can pay for extras and this is working out – it provides a $10k carryover and that is much more than it used to be.
More broadly, we do have challenges to deal with, but we are a safe community. The biggest employer is government but we also rely on tourism. We have lost 4 or 5 sawmills. This causes unemployment, which causes a host of issues due to stress in the community.
I do think local government needs to step up and solve some of the issues we are facing. The Federal and State government needs to be working for the people and not over the people. The way the public lands are regulated isn't working for the people here. Over in Crook County, unemployment is at levels seen during the Depression. This has definitely led people to resort to crime to make ends at times. It all started in the late 80's with the various protection acts like the spotted owl but there are many other restrictions now. The people can't take advantage of the resources – it is chipping at access to the public lands – timber, grazing, and access for recreation. We aren't properly managing the resource that is not controlled by us. By better managing it, we get jobs and that money circulates in this area.
How much do Sheriffs share these ideas?
In Oregon we have 4 meetings per year. I can't attend all of them all and there is a bit of sharing with the advent of email and the internet if someone is looking for input. Otherwise we are very focused on our own areas.
How will law enforcement change in the next five years?
I never would have guessed we would be where we are today with technology. We didn't get internet here until 7-8 years ago. It has improved communication tremendously. We were on typewrites when I started. We don't have mobile data terminals yet and don't have them planned in the near future. We use PCs for search and rescue as they have the mapping program. It is hard to predict exactly where we will be – but I suspect increased use of computers and mobile communications – inter agency communication – will be in the mix. On search and rescue – there is technology such as radio, spot messengers and cell phones available so that people shouldn't get lost unless they are injured.
Can you tell readers things they should know about Grant County?
We are extremely rural – 65% of the county is public lands (not Federal Lands). We have 7,000 permanent residents in a landscape ranging from 1200′-8000′ with a lot of high desert. We have a Paleontology Center that is well known. We have John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. And we have the Kam Wah Chung Museum that is truly must see as it covers the legacy of Chinese gold mine workers in Oregon in the original structure many visited for traditional herbal healing methods. I grew up across the street. People come from all over to see it. Plus we have other museums for gold mining as well. The people are warm here. Sure, the economy is sluggish but we do have great public lands. Hiking, biking and hunting are great here. We have excellent snowmobiling – 850-900 miles of groomed trails. We have great powder with all kinds of terrain. In the winters, I convert my motorcycle into a snow bike (ad bovin explorer conversion) with a ski on the front and a track on the back. It's a lot of fun in the powder we have here.