Curry County Sheriff John Bishop’s leaving late this summer won’t be the only hit to the county’s law enforcement team: He’s taking the Parole and Probation director, his wife Kris, with him.
Bishop announced his resignation last week, citing work-related stress. He will take a job with the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, a nonprofit organization that lobbies at the legislature on behalf of sheriffs’ issues, in Salem.
Sgt. Kris Bishop has applied for a job as a lieutenant in the parole and probation in Albany.
“I wish things were different,” Kris said Tuesday. “It’s bittersweet. We (the department) finally have so much more than we ever had. I feel we’re at the top of our game, and soon we’ll start sliding backward.”
She’s seen what that’s like.
Kris earned her bachelor’s in criminology from Southern Oregon State College (now Southern Oregon University) in 1995, and is one of a handful of those in the field who has graduated from all four state law enforcement academies: dispatcher, jail, patrol and parole and probation.
She joined the Curry County Sheriff’s Department 19 years ago, as a dispatcher, where she worked for three years. She transferred to the jail for two years, then to patrol for two years and parole and probation in 2002.
Twelve years ago, Kris never thought she’d like — much less stay in — the parole and probation, or P&P department.
But working with people who turn their lives around has had its rewards.
“It’s rewarding when you know you’ve helped somebody,” she said. “Some folks just need that right direction and positive reinforcement. You get to meet offenders in a different light. They’ve never been held accountable; never felt they had a problem. It’s nice to see when they become proactive parts of society.”
As director — she was appointed in April — Kris has been crafting policies and procedures for the department. They’ll be the first the P&P department has ever had.
When she started work, she said, the sheriff’s office was flush with command personnel — and money. There were 10 deputies on the road, two sergeants, two lieutenants, two detectives, one captain and two canines. Today, there are six road deputies, two lieutenants — and no sergeants, detectives, captains or dogs.
The jail was overseen by two sergeants and one lieutenant; today it’s one lieutenant.
“Everyone’s running bare bones; there’s nothing left to cut,” she said. “We all wear so many different hats. We all do so much. It’s like John says, “We’re not public slaves.’”
She was warned, she admitted.
When she started with the department, Kris was already hearing about timber revenues waning.
“In my interview, they told me this was an O&C-based county, that I may not have a job,” she said. “And that was way back then.”
When John Bishop took over in 2008, morale was “horrible,” Kris said. “We were a department in disarray. Our uniforms didn’t always match — they were made out of cotton and weren’t always ironed. There was missing carpet, or mismatched carpet. Ceiling tiles were missing. Jail toilets, sinks, plumbing leaked — into the evidence room. We’d read what was happening in our department in the paper.
“We had zero leadership,” Kris recalled. “Our sheriff at that time was not a leader.”
And then it got worse: O&C funds started to erode away.
“So this is what everyone had been talking about,” she said to herself, in 2000. “People would get demoted, then promoted back to their job as the money came and went.”
Her department, she noted, is funded by the state and at no risk of imploding like the other county entities.
“But if there’s no jail, there’s no way to hold offenders,” she said. “There’s no courts to send them to, no DAs to prosecute them. We’re going to be ineffective.”
Kris spoke at length about how her colleagues have pulled together to make the department work over the years. Under John’s leadership, she said, morale made a 180-degree turn.
“He genuinely cares, and that leadership has brought everyone along,” she said. “The workload we all volunteered to take on was pretty amazing. We don’t have money, we may not have (citizen) support, but we’re going to do it. We’re a team; a family.”
As morale increased, however, funds for the department plummeted. No O&C-related legislation is on the docket at either the state or federal level.
Two property tax measures were quashed by voters in the past year; another on the ballot in September must overcome the odds of obtaining a “double majority” — 50 percent of voters turning out, and a majority voting in favor of the measure — to pass.
She doesn’t think it’s likely, considering tax measures’ histories in Curry County, the timing of the election, that the commissioners gave all employees — including themselves — cost of living and retirement increases and now, since her popular husband has announced he’s leaving.
If the measure fails?
“The state can’t let the county go bankrupt,” she said. “I’d hate to see us go bare-boned, like Josephine County. I’d hate to think there would be no patrol. But that’s what I see happening.”
Kris fears that crime will soon start to seep across county and state lines.
“With the uncertainty in the sheriff’s department, we’ve just invited crime to come here,” she said. “Look at the wreck Josephine County is in. Sooner or later, it’s going to come here.”
We have worked so hard to maintain safety, so people don’t have fear. But you can’t push people forever. At some point they’re going to break.”
She doesn’t think the tax measure is going to pass, but said people shouldn’t vote against it just because the sheriff is leaving — or vote against it because they are angry at elected leaders.
“I don’t want to sound so doom and gloom; I understand no one wants to pay for government,” Kris said. “But we have to pay for safety and security. We should vote for community safety, for our community to prosper.
“If there was funding, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
It saddens her to see the outpouring of surprise from the community since she and John have announced they are leaving.
“If there’s so much support, where has it been for the last six years?” she asked. “John would hold public meetings and 25 people would show up. He puts levies on the ballot and gets no support. Where was that support, if everyone’s so concerned now?”
Her biggest challenge in her new endeavors will be leaving friends — friends who happen to be coworkers — especially since no on knows what the future holds for those left here.
“We’re leaving our parents behind,” she said. “But it’s the right move for us. The opportunity came into play. They offered this job to John two years ago. This time, every door has opened. I pinch myself.”
Kris also said it will be nice to have some anonymity — the little fish in the big pond — that the couple’s 11-year-old is looking forward to being closer to his older brother and that family plans won’t get cancelled if a community emergency crops up.
“I get to have my husband back,” she said. “And our family gets to have their dad back.”
She hopes the county can also pull itself together.
“What’s that quote? ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’?” she said. “It takes a whole community to have a great place to live. I really think Curry County is a beautiful place. If everyone would put their personal agendas and negativity aside and come together, this’d be an incredible place to be.”