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By Jim Cornelius
News Editor 

Law enforcement contract seen as success


Last updated 2/2/2022 at Noon

Sheriff Shane Nelson is satisfied with the way the nearly two-year-old revised law enforcement with the City of Sisters is going.

“I feel like we’ve got excellent coverage,” he told The Nugget. “And, most important thing about it is having the relationship with the community.”

The City of Sisters and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) agreed to a $711,200 annual contract in March of 2020. The contract allows for a DCSO lieutenant and three deputies to be stationed in Sisters. City staff interacts directly with Lt. Chad Davis, who reports to the sheriff. The deputies are all assigned full-time to Sisters, rather than a variety of deputies rotating through, which was stipulated to create the kind of community relationships Sheriff Nelson referred to.

The DCSO patrol vehicles all carry the City of Sisters logo to foster that community identity.

Nelson acknowledged the results of a recent citywide public safety survey that called out wildfire and traffic as local residents’ top concerns (see “Wildfire, traffic top citizen concerns,” The Nugget, January 26, page 1). The Sheriff’s Office plays a secondary roll to fire districts and the U.S. Forest Service in regards to wildfire. In regards to traffic, Nelson sited a near-doubling of traffic stops year-over-year from 2020 to 2021. The year 2020 saw 793 traffic stops; in 2021 there were 1,472. He noted that traffic stops don’t equate to tickets; most stops result in a warning.

Residents in Sisters have noted a considerably more visible patrol presence on Sisters’ streets and in high-traffic zones. The public survey showed that 74.9 percent of respondents believe that the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office contracted law enforcement service is very or somewhat effective.

Asked whether he is satisfied with that rating, Sheriff Nelson said, “We always try to improve what we do.”

The Sheriff’s Office does not set speed limits. Nelson acknowledged that the City of Sisters is strongly considering a reduction in speed limits. A recent traffic safety audit recommended reducing speed limits across Sisters to 20 mph.

Nelson said that patrol deputies will adjust their patrol response to whatever limits the City sets.

“When it comes to speed limits, I’ll leave that to the local community,” he said.

Nelson said that the current contract provides sufficient law enforcement coverage even as Sisters is poised to grow, with the new Sisters Woodlands development adding some 359 new housing units in the coming years. However, he said, if the City of Sisters wants more deputies on hand as the community gets more populous, he is open to that discussion. He also noted that DCSO is doubling the size of the Community Action Target Team (CATT), which can conduct focused patrols in areas where problems are identified — including traffic issues, vandalism, and illegal drug activity.

Interest in law enforcement as a career has taken a hit in recent years, due to an intense social and cultural climate. In 2020, DCSO conducted three back-to-back recruiting drives. Nelson acknowledged that recruiting for DCSO continues to be a challenge, though he cited some improvement.

“We’re actually having higher success rates in filling open positions,” he said.

However, he said, “The interest in going to work in a law enforcement agency appears to be down.”

Nelson also said that there is a 75 to 80 percent “washout” rate for recruits either in the background check or the field-training phase of recruitment.

“And that’s a good thing,” he said, “because you want the best people in this difficult work.”

Maintaining the Deschutes County Jail is a mandatory element of the Sheriff’s Office’s role. According to information provided by DCSO, the jail is 12 sworn positions short of full staffing of 93 sworn deputies. Some citizens have expressed concern that the staffing shortfall raises safety concerns for both staff and inmates.

“We’re adequately staffed,” Nelson told The Nugget. “I know very few agencies that ever reach full staffing, because it’s fluid.”

COVID-19 safety has complicated operations, with the jail required to reduce capacity to meet protocols. Nelson said that there are options when staffing becomes an issue. He said DCSO can call back retired staff or transfer patrol deputies into the jail.

“Forced release (of inmates), that’s an option I’d rather use as a last resort,” he said.

(Editor’s note: The Nugget will more closely examine how the Deschutes County Jail operates in coming weeks.)

Sheriff Nelson, who was appointed to the position of Sheriff by retiring Sheriff Larry Blanton in 2015 and ran for the office successfully in 2016, has come under heavy media scrutiny in recent weeks. Oregon Public Broadcasting ran a lengthy piece on Dec. 14, 2021, depicting what it called “a culture of retaliation” in the Sheriff’s Office.

In 2016, Nelson was challenged by then-DCSO Deputy Eric Kozowski, who alleged cronyism, workplace harassment, and retaliation. Nelson won the election with 55 percent of the vote. Kozowski was fired in 2018, after multiple internal affairs investigations, characterized in the OPB story as focused on “minor violations.” Kozowski sued Nelson and Deschutes County.

In August 2021, a federal jury awarded Kozowski more than $1 million, finding that Nelson retaliated against Kozowski for running against him.

Bend police officer Scott Schaier also questioned Nelson’s leadership and the culture of DCSO in an unsuccessful 2020 bid for the office.

In interviews with The Nugget, Nelson has consistently argued that multiple personnel issues portrayed by opponents as evidence of turmoil in the Sheriff’s Office are actually representative of a focus on accountability and transparency, in what he considers to be insistence on aligning with the values of the Sheriff’s Office.

One of those values is fiscal responsibility. A local citizen recently asked why “fiscal responsibility” had been removed from the DCSO mission statement. Queried on that by The Nugget, Nelson acknowledged that he did make that change, instead placing it amongst the values of “Integrity” in the DCSO statement of mission and values.

He said that fiscal responsibility is based in the values of the individual personnel of DCSO.

“Fiscal responsibility is huge to me, but whether you have it in the mission statement doesn’t mean you have it or not.”

He noted that DCSO strives to use “only what is needed” of the permanent funding allotted to the Sheriff’s Office by voters in 2006.

“Money is better left in the taxpayer’s wallet,” he said.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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