It’s been three months since Joe Nole was sworn in as Jefferson County Sheriff. There is definitely a “new sheriff in town.” But as far as the old saw goes that “a new broom sweeps clean?” There’s been no drastic restructuring, massive personnel turnover, oblique turns to the right or left, or old programs scrapped in favor of breathtaking new programs.
Superintendent David Fortino remains at the helm of the county jail. Chief Trevor Hansen continues to lead Civil Deputies, and Amanda Hamilton is still Confidential Secretary. It’s true that Andy Pernsteiner has been named as Undersheriff, that Sergeant Bret Anglin has been appointed Supervising Detective, and that the office layout has been rearranged to reflect “pre-incumbent norms,” but for the most part? The men and women of the Sheriff’s office remain the dedicated, committed and professional force they have always been.
So what about that new broom? According to Sheriff Nole, his primary goal was accomplished the day after the election, when he entered the Sheriff’s office. “There was a palpable lightening of mood – a general feeling of relief, even euphoria from the rank and file,” said Nole. “No new administration wants to dwell on the perceived failures of its predecessors – but there was a reason that the deputies and detectives pressed me to run for office,” said Nole. “It wasn’t so much the policies or programs initiated over the last four years, but perceived underlying agendas. It always seemed to be more about the sizzle than the steak, more about the dazzle than the delivery. I intend to focus on the steak. I intend to focus on delivery.”
No one I talked to was eager to bash the previous leadership, all preferring to look forward. But there was a general consensus that the last few years were tainted by a divisive, no-confidence vibe, a sort of post-Ferguson mindset pitting the public against police officers.
“Jefferson County was faced with the reality of a Sheriff and Undersheriff who had served much of their time in California, without any Washington State law enforcement experience, running a team of deputies and detectives who had learned their trade and earned their rank right in the community they served,” said Nole. “That, combined with what appeared to be a presumption that the existing rank and file somehow couldn’t be trusted – that the community needed to be protected from its own law enforcement, led to micromanagement from the ‘top,’ and resentment from the ‘bottom.’”
Newly appointed Undersheriff Andy Pernsteiner offered some examples. “Take the ‘Blue Courage’ program pushed over the last few years,” said Pernsteiner. “Originally designed as an internal program to improve law enforcement officer physical, mental, and moral health – here, it was trotted out as external information – directed at the general public. Well, you can’t talk to the public about ‘restoring the shine on a police officer’s badge’ without sending a message that the current force is somehow tarnished,” continued Pernsteiner. “Of course there is always room for improvement, for personal and professional self-betterment, and we should all strive for that. But you can promote professional growth without implying incompetence or corruption. We’ve worked hard to earn the public’s trust. It hurt to watch that trust undermined by a publicity campaign.”
Deputy Sheriff Brian Anderson put it even more succinctly. “We needed a Sheriff who was willing to stand up for us,” said Anderson. “The concepts of police morale and a safe community are not mutually exclusive.”
So, what about that “new broom?” The 2017 Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Strategic Plan highlights six “issues” or “strategies” to “carry JCSO through the next several years,” and according to Sheriff Nole, it’s a solid guide. “A lot of hard work and resources went into developing our Strategic Plan – and the strategies, once stripped of any underlying agendas – promote good, solid achievements that would enhance any law enforcement agency,” said Nole. “The plan provided for updated policy manuals for the operations division and corrections division, and instituted access to Daily Training Bulletins for all personnel. It also accessed Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) expertise to review all JSCO policies, procedures and practices to bring them in line with WASPC best practices, and eventually result in State Accreditation for operations and corrections divisions.”
“Ideally, Accreditation should be accomplished within a year’s time – it’s all about current policy and familiarity with new issues and new case law,” continued Nole. “Again, we seemed to be pushing dazzle over delivery – and the process has dragged on for almost three years. I intend to make accreditation for operations a reality – as early as this Spring, and then push for corrections division final evaluations and accreditation.”
The Strategic Plan also promotes: Intervention and Engagement with At-Risk Populations; Enhancing Efficiencies with additional staffing; Employee Wellness and Safety; and Support Functions (Court Security, Animal Control, and Code Enforcement), most of which have Sheriff Nole’s complete and enthusiastic buy-in. Especially when it comes to Animal Control. “Previous administrations took Animal Control seriously, and were eventually able to carve out funding for a dedicated, uniformed animal control officer with a purpose-built van. I’ve watched the equipment ‘repurposed,’ the position debased, and finally eradicated,” said Nole. “My deputies do their level best to take up the slack, but not without a lot of personal risk. It may take some doing, faced with a budget that was built for other priorities, but I intend to reinstate a fully capable animal control function.”
Last fall, I participated in a Ride Along with Deputy Sheriff Brandon Przygocki, and just this month did a follow-up Ride Along with Deputy Sheriff Justin Coronado – to compare and contrast law enforcement under the two “regimes.”
Przygocki drove an unmarked Ford Explorer Police Interceptor. Coronado drove a Ford Explorer Police Interceptor emblazoned with JCSO colors and markings. Other than that? Absolutely no difference. The officers were professional, positive, dedicated, and upbeat. They loved doing their jobs, loved their communities, and took their sworn duty to “serve and protect” extremely seriously.
Both were either “from here” or had come up through the ranks in Jefferson County. Przygocki entered the system as a Police Cadet, worked for five years in dispatch for JCSO and as a reserve officer for the Port Townsend Police Department. Coronado worked for five years as a Corrections Officer at the Jefferson County Jail, before being promoted to Deputy Sheriff a year and a half ago. Both are married, have families and live within or near the communities they serve. Both had sat through mandatory “Blue Courage” training.” Both were aware of the previous regime’s “Coffee with a Cop” “community policing” effort – a program that would drag in off-duty deputies and pay them overtime to sit in restaurants at pre-announced dates and times to “bond with citizens.”
“There seemed to be an inherent insincerity in the program – an artificiality,” said Przygocki. “It started right after the previous sheriff was elected, withered, and then started up again just before the next election season.”
Coronado concurred. “We work here, shop here, and eat here. Our kids go to school here. There is never a shortage of opportunities to interact in a positive way, in a genuine way, with our fellow-citizens.”
So – the “new sheriff” isn’t that new, having served with the Sheriff’s Office for twenty-eight years. The “new” undersheriff isn’t that new. Andy Pernsteiner has served JCSO for two decades, over half of that time as a supervisor. And the “old guard” continue doing their jobs, day in, and day out – keeping their neighbors safe.
A new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows the corners. Sheriff Nole is committed to tempering the former, with the latter.
Still, there IS a new Sheriff in town.