This article appears in the June 2018 edition of the Salem Business Journal.
The Marion County Sheriff's Office is helping former Soviet republics modernize their police departments. They have hosted, and visited, professionals from the countries of Georgia and Ukraine as part of a cross-cultural exchange arranged through the American Councils for International Education based in Washington D.C.
Participants spend four weeks with the host agency and submit a project to implement in their own country, based on what they learned. The council reviews the projects and selects four to five, out of about 30 submitted, for funding by the U.S. State Department.
A policymaker from Georgia job-shadowed Commander Sheila Lorance at the MCSO last fall, Lorance visited Georgia in April to make presentations on community policing, and a Ukrainian analyst has been at the sheriff's office for several weeks this spring.
In Tbilisi, Georgia, Lorance presented at the National Police Academy, Tbilisi State University, and American Corners which is a part of the American Embassy. She said, "They're trying to implement changes in policing to gain public trust and really improve the image of their police force."
Ukraine and Georgia were part of the Soviet Union, which broke up in the early 1990s. Their law enforcement is highly centralized, with little outside oversight by civilians. At Georgia's national police academy, Lorance encouraged officers to get out of their patrol cars – to engage the public instead of being seen only as enforcers and interrogators. She encouraged them to start with small steps and not expect overnight transformation.
For Lorance, this was an opportunity to compare law enforcement among countries. She said she returned from Georgia with an even greater appreciation for the sheriff's office values: "Our community engagement – including the community we serve. Our transparency – if we make a mistake, we own it. It really reinforced for me that we're headed in the right direction. Even with the sometimes negative press law enforcement receives, our community supports us."
Lorance indicated her favorite presentation was with the American Corners youth and community members. "You could see they really wanted the change, especially the high school kids. You could see hope in their eyes and it was so encouraging." She said, "One kid stood up and said, 'Wow, you're doing it right in the United States. That's the way we should be doing it.'"
Both Teona Surmava, last fall's visiting policymaker from Georgia's Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Levgen Vorobiov, a national analytical officer with the European Union Advisory Mission, were surprised that Marion County residents elect their sheriff. "It's democracy in action, democracy in law enforcement," Vorobiov said.
Vorobiov came to Marion County this spring to learn about instilling integrity and civilian oversight in law enforcement. The organization for which he works is helping Ukraine reform its law enforcement and judicial system, which has a history of human-rights violations and public mistrust.
"It's been a great experience, professionally and personally," said Vorobiov, who on his non-work days has explored Oregon's "stunning" natural beauty.
At the MCSO, Lorance commands the Operations Division, which provides administrative support for the other divisions and handles community resources, volunteer programs and cadets, as well as courthouse security and other functions.
After 30 years with the sheriff's office, Lorance will retire July 31 with her Georgia exchange among her career highlights.