Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler’s two years in office have led to increased jail capacity and other improvements, but challenger Bill Froehlich says he sees ways to improve service levels, particularly for rural areas.
The two face off in the Nov. 6 election, ballots for which were mailed this week.
“Things are really clicking,” Sickler said, citing several recent initiatives to improve early release rates at the jail, keep repeat offenders in custody and provide a mental health counselor to work with patrol deputies. “It’d be really nice to see these projects through and continue building on what we’ve done.”
Froehlich, who has 30 years of law enforcement experience outside the Rogue Valley, said he’s heard complaints from residents about less-than-courteous responses to crimes throughout the county. Froehlich said if elected, he’d do a “complete analysis of staffing” to better meet the community’s needs.
“I want to raise the standard of professionalism at the sheriff’s office,” he said.
MORE ON THE SHERIFF'S RACE: Jail solutions divide candidates
Sickler said his law enforcement beginnings at smaller police departments such as Phoenix help him understand the needs of smaller communities, but he said that providing around-the-clock patrols in the smallest and most remote communities isn’t feasible.
Sickler began his law enforcement career in 1995 as a reserve officer for Phoenix police, before working for Klamath Falls police while commuting from Jackson County. He took a position at the sheriff’s office as a road deputy in 2006 and rose through the ranks. He worked as a patrol sergeant, ran the detective division for three years and worked as captain of the operations division prior to his appointment as sheriff in 2017 following a competitive application process.
Sickler said his department has improved how it serves rural residents under his watch, particularly over the past year. A seasonal deputy focused on the Prospect area over the summer, and eight patrol candidates are currently at various stages of the hiring pipeline. Four hires are at the police academy, one is in training and three are learning the ropes on patrol.
“Service levels do fluctuate with staffing levels, but overall we’re doing pretty good,” Sickler said.
Whoever wins will have to deal with rising calls for service since 2014.
In 2017, there were 27,184 calls for service for which a case number was assigned — a 9.8 percent increase from the 24,755 logged in 2014, according to numbers provided by Jackson County Sheriff’s Sgt. Julie Denney. Total calls for service were 52,359 in 2017, a 27 percent increase from the 40,921 in 2014.
Sickler said he hopes to see more deputies freed up by tackling marijuana-related crime in rural areas through a new partnership with the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force, funded through a $600,000 grant arranged between state representatives and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The partnership, which will dedicate two deputies solely to marijuana crime, is expected to begin by next harvest season, according to Sickler.
Froehlich, who retired in 2007 from West Valley, Utah’s police department after more than 16 years in supervisory roles, said he believes the current staff culture is “lacking” for corrections and patrol deputies.
“You have to have a good, active recruiting program, which I do not believe exists here,” Froehlich said.
Froehlich said corrections and patrol deputies have sought him out unsolicited and shared “intense concerns” about issues such as mandatory overtime and understaffing at the Jackson County Jail. He declined to specify how many concerned deputies he’s talked with, saying his conversations were in confidence.
“It’s more than just a few,” Froehlich said.
Sickler pointed to last year’s union negotiations as an example of harmony in the department, as a contract was hammered out in short order.
“We’re just able to create a different environment of more trust,” Sickler said.
Because benefits, wages, working conditions and hours for non-management employees are negotiated between the county and the JCSEA, Sickler described agency culture as what he can control.
“My job is to create an environment where people want to be a part,” Sickler said.
Sickler said he’s proud of how he’s changed the rank structure at the sheriff’s office since the Jackson County Board of Commissioners appointed him to replace Corey Falls. He said the two additional ranks create an environment of opportunity and teamwork.
Sickler added the rank of corporal and reinstated the rank of lieutenant, giving his staff a smoother succession plan and an opportunity to take on added responsibilities in smaller steps, he said. It also makes his department appealing to “lateral transfer” candidates with prior law enforcement experience.
The rank of corporal is something he’d wanted since 2014, when he worked as captain of the operations division, but it “wasn’t getting any traction” at the time. He was able to make a stronger push for the ranks as sheriff, he said.
Sickler further touts how much he’s collaborated with other facets of the criminal justice system. He described the agency’s relationships with other agencies as “probably as strong as they’ve ever been.”
Sickler has collaborated with the district attorney’s office and judges for a “Chronic FTA” (Failure to Appear) program, which holds the worst repeat offenders in the jail without early release, forcing them to attend their court appearances and saving the justice system time and money.
Froehlich says he would meet with police chiefs, the district attorney and others in the criminal justice system after the election, when they can provide a more honest assessment of what the department needs.
Froehlich said he’s presently focused on hearing solely from locals in line with his tagline as “the citizens’ sheriff.”
“I’m out there for the folks,” Froehlich said.
Froehlich said his tagline has “absolutely nothing” to do with Measure 105, the proposed ballot measure that would strike Oregon’s Sanctuary Law, or any other immigration issues. Froehlich said that when he retired as police lieutenant and watch commander from West Valley, Utah, in 2007, he served a diverse community, and that he’s focused on serving all “communities within the community.”
“I would develop a mission statement that’s inclusive,” Froehlich said.
Froehlich also has called himself a “constitutional sheriff,” but said he’s not familiar with the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a political organization that believes federal and state government authorities are subordinate to local government authority.
“In simple terms, I support the Constitution, I believe in the people’s rights under the Constitution, and that they should be protected at all costs,” Froehlich said.
He said this approach to law enforcement never wavered from his experience working with the sheriff’s department in Bonneville County, Idaho, or while with West Valley police.
“Even as a municipal officer, you are still dealing with people’s constitutional rights,” Froehlich said. “And that is something that is always on the horizon and always needs to be considered.”
Froehlich said his experience as lieutenant involved watching over 36 officers and four sergeants, and at times he acted as commander for the entire division, including Special Weapons and Tactics and detective divisions.
He received a police Medal of Honor in 1991 because of his involvement in an officer-involved shooting that left a man dead. The shooting was deemed justified, Froehlich said.
“It is a humbling experience, it is an experience many overrate, and the feelings that go through your mind when this takes place are many,” Froehlich said of being involved in a fatal incident. “It does give you a very strong life experience that stays with you for the rest of your life.”
Despite decades of experience, Froehlich would have to go to the state's police academy if he were elected.
Sickler described that lack of certification as a liability that could lead to months of hands-off leadership. Froehlich, however, said it’s a “common occurrence,” and that the county charter gives him a year to get certified. He said he would appoint an undersheriff while he’s focused on getting certified.
“As far as the department goes, it’s not going to affect what’s going on with me,” Froehlich said.