VALE – Brian Wolfe said he has one goal when he enters the ranks of the retired in April.
“I hope to be on a tractor or a horse every day,” Wolfe told the Malheur County Court last week.
Wolfe announced he will step down in April and then work part time for Bentz Insurance in Vale.
“I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been offered to be the sheriff of Malheur County,” Wolfe told the court.
Wolfe said he decided to retire “a while ago.” Wolfe said he announced his retirement to the sheriff’s office staff during its yearly meeting Tuesday, Feb. 28. Wolfe is the 15th sheriff in Malheur County.
Wolfe, who has been sheriff since 2011, said it will be difficult to leave law enforcement. He was re-elected to a four-year term in 2020, defeating Ontario police officer Casey Walker.
Wolfe said it is time to retire.
“I’ve seen people be at an organization too long,” he said.
Wolfe cited recent changes in Oregon laws as a factor in his decision to retire. He said two new laws – Ballot Measure 110 and Ballot Measure 114 – helped push him toward retirement.
Ballot Measure 110, passed by voters in 2020, reduced penalties for personal possession of illegal narcotics. Ballot Measure 114 imposed new restrictions on gun ownership.
“I am not dealing very well with some of the law enforcement reforms in Oregon,” he said.
Wolfe has been active politically, opposing both measures. In December, he joined a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court to stop the implementation of portions of Ballot Measure 114. At the time, Wolfe said he joined to lawsuit because he questioned its constitutionality.
He said the new gun mandate would put Oregonians in “more danger because it will increase the sales of guns on the black market.”
Wolfe said in an interview that Measure 110 is especially onerous.
“It is, in my opinion, a terrible detriment to the well-being of Oregon,” he said.
Wolfe said Measure 110 is a classic example of Oregon’s tendency to “put a band aid on an open wound.”
“It is not addressing the real problem. People are not getting help for their addictions. They are self-medicating with the wrong things because there are no consequences,” he said.
Wolfe said Measure 110 is “adding to the homeless problem.”
“It is adding to dependency, of people being dependent upon the illegal controlled substance,” he said.
Wolfe also said the gun law makes little sense.
“You can take very gun out of Oregon and you are still going to have evil people committing terrible crimes,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said the most pressing problem to be solved is how mental health issues in Oregon are addressed.
Wolfe said the Malheur County Jail deals with that daily.
“There are a lot of people suffering from mental health issues that end up in our jails,” said Wolfe.
Other elements of criminal justice reform in Oregon frustrate Wolfe.
“In Oregon you can’t stop a vehicle for just one tail light or one headlight being out. Early in my career I stopped a lot of people for that but never once issued a citation. But I did take a lot of people to jail on warrants. So, I just don’t think it is wise to take all the tools away from law enforcement,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said “every legislative session there are more and more” initiatives that impact police.
“I guess what I am getting at is I feel it’s time,” said Wolfe.
In 2018, Wolfe supported a ballot measure to revoke the state’s sanctuary law regarding illegal immigrants.
Yet Wolfe, 61, said at the time that he did not plan to round up undocumented immigrants within Malheur County.
Wolfe began his 32-year law enforcement career in Nyssa in 1990 before he moved on to the Ontario Police Department and then the sheriff’s office where he served as the undersheriff under then-Sheriff Andy Bentz.
Wolfe said the job as sheriff should always be “about the people you serve.”
Loyalty, Wolfe said, has been one of his key tenants as sheriff. He told the court he received his first lesson in loyalty when he was working at the Nyssa Police Department. He learned of a job opening at the Ontario Police Department that paid $1,500 more a month than his position in Nyssa.
Wolfe decided not to apply.
“I said I couldn’t do that. The city of Nyssa took a chance on us,” he said.
Not long after, Nyssa Police Chief Terry Thompson met with Wolfe and asked him point-blank if he was going to apply for the Ontario job.
“I told him no. Because of loyalty. Then he said, ‘Anytime you can better yourself and your family you should do it,’” said Wolfe.
Then Thompson handed Wolfe a letter of recommendation.
“He talked to me about loyalty being a two-way street,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe recommended the county court appoint Undersheriff Travis Johnson to fill out the remainder of his term. The court promptly voted unanimously to do so.
“I have full confidence in Undersheriff Johnson,” Wolfe said.
Johnson said he was “looking forward” to stepping into the sheriff’s slot.
“I think we have a good team assembled and are in a good place to keep going forward,” said Johnson.
Johnson started work at the sheriff’s office in 2009 and became undersheriff in 2012.
Johnson said he will also run for election to the office in 2024 election.
“I am going to miss Brian terribly. He’s been a great leader, a hard worker and has done a lot for this county,” said Johnson.
Wolfe has always been a fierce defender of individual rights, whether it is regarding Second Amendment or First Amendment issues.
“I will miss my association with people in Malheur county,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe pointed to several successes during his tenure, including the addition of a mental health professional in the jail.
He also said he believes his citizens academy – a six-week course for residents to learn about law enforcement – was a success.
He said law enforcement agencies in Malheur County are also more unified now than in the past.
“There are no turf wars, if you will, and we all understand when somebody calls for service very seldom do they care what color the uniform is,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said he feels it was a privilege to be sheriff.
“I would say thanks (to the community). Thanks for letting me have the opportunity, thanks for helping raise my family in this community. There is no place I’d rather be,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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