Matt was raised in Sherman County in the Columbia River Gorge. His dad Ray was the district attorney from 1970-1998 and his mother Mary was a speech therapist until Matt was born. His brother John was born when Matt was four.
Matt graduated from Sherman Union High School and attended Southern Oregon University, where he met his wife, Robbie. It was during his time at Southern Oregon that Matt first thought about a career in law enforcement. He began his degree in business but quickly changed to focusing on criminology as he found the work and subject matter very intriguing. His interest was in part due to his father’s work as a district attorney and it also complemented the values his parents had instilled in him from a young age.
Matt participated in a college practicum at Jackson County Community Corrections, his first exposure to that field. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science from SOU in 1997. Following graduation, Matt pursued a career in federal law enforcement until an opportunity arose in Hood River County.
In 1998, English started his law enforcement career with Hood River County Community Corrections as a parole and probation officer. In 2000, he transferred to the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy.
Matt was assigned to investigations in 2009 as a detective investigating major crimes. During his tenure at the Sheriff’s Office, English has served as a training instructor, traffic grant project coordinator, a public information officer and as a part-time instructor at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. He has been deeply involved in the Reserve Deputy Program, serving as an instructor and former assistant program coordinator. Further, Matt served as president of the Hood River County Law Enforcement Association from 2005-2011.
While working as a detective, it became clear that the sitting sheriff was likely going to retire. Since Matt started with the Sheriff’s Office he had poured his heart and soul into the organization; its success and the betterment of the organization was always a top priority. A core group within the office were all of similar age and had the same amount of time left in their careers. Matt shared their vision and saw the opportunity to take the Sheriff’s Office into its next era. He wanted to ensure the organization moved forward and that all of the ideas and unique skillsets of the remaining group of deputies were realized and utilized. The dedication to the community and desire to ensure the health of the organization drove Matt to run for sheriff.
In 2012, English was elected as Hood River County’s ninth sheriff and started his first term on January 7, 2013. The first immediate challenge that Matt faced was staffing and training within the agency. Hood River County, like most counties in the state, saw major impacts from the recession and the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t immune. Staffing levels were down to a level that hadn’t been seen since the early 1990’s. Budget reductions during the period had also resulted in a loss of training. In late 2012, just before Sheriff English took office, almost 66% of the staff was facing decertification for lack of training.
English and his staff immediately implemented a new shift plan that created an overlap day where half of the staff could receive training on a monthly basis without incurring overtime costs, ensuring the deputies were once again well-trained. Additionally, it created a day where all staff was working, doubling coverage and allowing time to pursue special projects, emphasis patrols, foot patrols and other community-based programs that hadn’t been possible before the change. Within the first year, many of the deputies had most or all of their training completed for the DPSST required three-year cycle.
The first year in office, English and his Undersheriff Brian Rockett regularly worked patrol shifts while immediate vacancies left by retirements were filled and new staff was trained.
In his first term, English and staff have secured grants to do a necessary records management system upgrade for not only Hood River County but the Hood River Police Department and Wasco County Sheriff’s Office. Through grant funding the office was also able to add computer tablets to vehicles, allowing deputies direct access to call information, vehicle returns, person returns, mapping and other necessary call data to improve deputy efficiency, reduce 9-1-1 workload, and improve staff safety.
Recently, English wanted to address the aging and failing communications system operated by the office’s 9-1-1 division. They were able to secure grant funding for the much-needed radio upgrades, which addressed significant staff safety needs for not only the Sheriff’s Office but also the Hood River Police Department. A second phase of the project is planned in coming years that will integrate all public safety elements into one countywide system that will offer better overall communications and countywide interoperability.
Sheriff English had the opportunity to take over management of the county’s Community Corrections operations in July of 2014. Since then, major changes to staff safety and training have been implemented. The division has added much-needed programming via grant funding and realignment of available resources.
In 2014 the office added a K9 program, bringing the agency’s first narcotics detection canine on board. In 2015 English instituted the Special Response Team (SRT), a limited-use tactical team, to help address some of the intermediate level tactical needs of the county.
During his first year in office Matt saw the need for a more up-to-date, online presence and access to the organization. Since then, the office has increased the amount of news and interaction with media and the public. Through new and improved social media and an upgraded, comprehensive website which includes an online reporting component, the office has improved community access. A soon-to-be-implemented citizen’s academy will further promote the organization and add another avenue for the public to interact with the staff.
English also secured a contract with Lexipol, a nationally recognized policy company. Since that time, the organization has implemented comprehensive and up-to-date policies and procedures.
A major overhaul of the Marine Program and changes in search and rescue response and operations has also been implemented.
In Hood River County over one-third of the population is comprised of Latinos. Sheriff English has a strong desire to include all of the community in public safety, and saw increasing involvement as a clear and necessary component to be more successful. In 2013, Sheriff English began regularly appearing on local Spanish-language radio. Today he continues a monthly radio program that has listeners in not only the four counties of the Columbia River Gorge, but is also being broadcast through a streaming service with listeners in other states and Mexico.
“I’m very pleased we’ve been able to recover the positions lost during the recession in the last couple of years,” English said. “However, funding and staffing numbers that don’t reflect the population or call volume continue to be the biggest challenges we face.”
Since 1990 the Sheriff’s Office has added only two positions, but the population of the county has increased nearly 44%. Between 2012 and 2015, Sheriff English found that calls for service had risen an astounding 20%. Hood River County has become a mecca for outdoor recreation and is regularly on top locations nationally for places to visit, recreate or live. Hood River County ranks 24th out of 36 in population, but has been the fastest-growing county in the state since 2010 and is seeing visitors in the millions annually. As a result, a booming tourist industry has taken a remarkable toll on Sheriff’s Office resources. The Sheriff’s Office now sees an average of 100 search and rescue calls for service annually. In the last three years, only two rescue missions have involved area residents.
English and staff have been working on parallel tracks to increase staffing and address the needs of both residents and visitors. One major focus has been to create a division that just focuses on the recreational response. Hood River County has received increased funding from the Oregon State Marine Board this year and has also recently partnered with the Port of Hood River.
Matt has spent much of the last year talking to groups and entities that have a vested interest or revenue stream as a result of the tourism that is driving this need. Stakeholders will have to contribute to making this a reality and ensure that proper staffing exists to respond appropriately to the river, lakes, trails and Mt. Hood. Sheriff English feels strongly that the county’s residents shouldn’t have to foot the bill, as they rarely access these services. Currently, patrol deputies are pulled away from their duties to respond to tourist-related incidents involving recreation.
English has also been working with the county to increase patrol deputies for response to criminal calls in the county. Currently, the office only has thirteen deputies assigned to patrol plus three detectives. They handled 14,579 events in 2015. With the explosive growth the county has seen, English sees the office getting further and further behind the eightball every year regarding their ability to properly cover the ever-increasing call volume and basic needs of the community.
Sheriff English sees several challenges facing the Office of Sheriff in the immediate future. Obviously, all of law enforcement is facing unprecedented scrutiny and negative publicity at a national level, which trickles down in some degree to all of law enforcement. On many levels, law enforcement is seeing some knee-jerk reactions as a result of isolated incidents that are occurring far from Oregon. It has affected public perception and has resulted in bad or ill-advised legislation, painting all law enforcement with a broad brush and assuming that all agencies operate the same, have the same community issues, and are viewed negatively in every community. In some of these situations, there is probably fault on both sides. Law enforcement in many communities needs to do a better job of transparency in talking to their communities after major, polarizing events, and get in front of issues more rapidly. That being said, there’s no quick fix to the often unfair, single-sided media reports that are continuously affecting policing agencies across our nation.
In English’s county, he said he hasn’t seen local sentiment change or problems arise. Instead, he said that law enforcement, and his office in particular, has maintained and continues to build community relations. He believes those relationships haven’t been stronger in his career. Several times a week, he and his deputies are being stopped and thanked for their service. Citizens have even made special trips to their office to express their appreciation. English said he feels very fortunate and is humbled to work in such a community. He values the interaction and relationship he and the office have within their community and is inspired to do more to foster that environment.
One issue that English said they have not been immune to are the effects on recruiting and interest in the profession. He sees this as a major issue for sheriff’s offices to recruit good candidates when competing with cities who often pay more. The problem is compounded for smaller rural agencies where pay is even lower, and there are less internal programs or promotional opportunities. In Hood River County, low pay coupled with an exorbitant cost of living has made recruiting very difficult, particularly for a county that borders the Portland metropolitan area.
Despite funding challenges, English said he is very proud of the fact that they’ve been able to do more with less. “I think we’ve made some very remarkable progress in the last four years,” he said. “Relationships are key and invaluable. It’s a major piece of the sheriff’s job and the office of sheriff.” One of those relationships brings the agency’s first school resource deputy on board during the upcoming school year. The Hood River School District has partnered with the Sheriff’s Office to address school safety and education in the local middle and high schools.
English said the proudest moment in his career was being elected and sworn in as Hood River County’s ninth Sheriff. “It is a great honor, yet very humbling at the same time, to know that the citizens of your county have entrusted you with such great responsibility. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t reflect upon that and keep that in mind when making decisions.”
Sheriff English currently serves on the Executive Committee for the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association (OSSA). He holds positions on the Association of Oregon Counties, Legislative, Marine Board, Search and Rescue, Strategic Planning and School Crisis Response Committees for OSSA, and numerous other committees within the Association. Additionally, he represents the Sheriffs’ Association on the Attorney General’s Task Force on Crime Victims’ Rights.
Matt and his wife Robbie were married in 1998, shortly after moving to Hood River. The day that Matt graduated from the DPSST Basic Police Academy, he and Robbie learned that she was pregnant with twin boys. Andy and Ben are amazing kids who are bright, kind-hearted, and share their parents’ sense of humor. Matt and the boys also share a love of basketball which led to Matt coaching their teams for six years during elementary and middle school. The boys will be freshmen at Hood River Valley High School this year. Matt and Robbie feel blessed to be able to live in such a beautiful place and raise their kids in a supportive community.