By Dick Hughes, special to Marion County
Jason Myers gravitated toward the county side of law enforcement because he enjoyed working alone. He ends his career at the Marion County Sheriff's Office as the person in charge – and with a reputation for collaborating with other county departments, law enforcement agencies and elected officials.
"It's been an amazing job," Myers said of being sheriff. "What I really appreciate is that I have a team of really dedicated people who see the vision of where we're going. They see that we're here to serve the community and to make it a better place, and that really motivates you."
He is retiring June 30, and looks forward to having more time with his family, who has been so supportive of his career. The county Board of Commissioners has appointed Commander Joe Kast to succeed Myers.
"I think the sheriff's office is in a great place right now. We have outstanding individuals working here," Myers said. "We have a strong leadership team that's prepared to take over."
Myers started as a Salem police cadet, studied law enforcement at Chemeketa Community College and in 1989 got a summer job as a Marion County sheriff's cadet. He was hooked.
"I really, really, really liked the county perspective. I liked being out in the rural areas – and the urban areas. You get kind of a mix.
"Working with folks out in the rural communities, oftentimes you would find yourself alone. There's no backup, so you have to have good communication skills and be confident in your skills and abilities," he said. "I enjoyed working by myself and working together with people in the rural areas and addressing their issues and quality-of-life concerns."
Myers has served at every rank in the MCSO: patrol deputy, field training deputy, judicial security deputy, school resource officer, detective, patrol sergeant, narcotics detective sergeant, administrative lieutenant, operations division commander, undersheriff and, since 2009, sheriff.
He has seen – and led – considerable change throughout his MCSO career.
Over half of the calls for service come from unincorporated East Salem. The area makes up less than half a percent of the county's land area, yet nearly equals Keizer in population. Through a small monthly fee for households and businesses, the county now will have 10 deputies dedicated to serving that area.
Another advancement is the opening of the public safety building on Aumsville Highway next to the county jail. The new facility brings together the patrol deputies, detectives, and parole and probation deputies.
"We're not a single-discipline organization. We have our law enforcement function. We have our corrections function. We have our community corrections function," Myers said. "So we're seeing people all throughout the stages of the criminal justice system."
Public safety – protecting the community – remains the core mission. But Myers also came to realize that jail was not the best place for people whose foundational issues were mental illness, addiction and/or homelessness – not criminality.
In response, the MCSO has collaborated to develop mobile crisis teams; Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion to address persistent, low-level drug and quality-of-life crimes; and programs to reduce recidivism.
"I think we're heading in the right direction," Myers said. "As we look at our past history with issues of addiction, with issues of mental illness and issues of homelessness, we were not able to use the criminal justice system to fix those issues. We couldn't arrest our way out of those situations."
As his career progressed, Myers discovered he enjoyed both leadership and public policy. He will continue using those skills in his next role, working with the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association on training and intergovernmental relations.
"Sheriff's offices, in my opinion, they're very special because of our connection as sheriffs to the community that we're elected (from)," he said. "We work directly for the citizens of our county."
Leadership has been one of his passions. That is evident in the respect he has developed throughout the county, at the Oregon Capitol and among area law enforcement.
"I just try to do my best every day," Myers said. "I try to listen more than I talk. I try to hear what people want, and then I try to deliver on that. I think that's guided me well. I've done that throughout my career."