Sheriff Chris Humphreys is the fifth generation of his family to live in Wheeler County. He began as a deputy sheriff with Wheeler County in 1997. In 1999 he left Wheeler County to work for the Portland Police Bureau, moving back to Wheeler County in 2013 when he was first sworn in as Wheeler County Sheriff. “I love football and have coached at the local high school for several years, I play a pretty horrible guitar, and I spend any free time I have with my family,” said Sheriff Humphreys. “I am obsessed with trying to become a beekeeper. I have three hives currently and want to expand to a few more.”
When asked why he wanted to be in law enforcement, Sheriff Humphreys admitted that it all started over a girl. She went to Western Oregon, and he was going to Linfield. While they had been dating since high school, it was pretty clear that attending different colleges wasn’t going to work. He was originally learning to be a high school teacher, but that was more of a placeholder then anything. What he really wanted to do was be a writer. Chris transferred schools during his senior year of college to keep chasing the girl, and he switched his major to criminal justice because he thought he was going to be the next Joseph Wambaugh. “I figured I would be a police officer for a few years, get some good stories, then quit and write the great American novel,” said Sheriff Humphreys. “But of course, once they pin the badge on you, you get bit by the bug, and the rest is history. Oh yeah, I’ve been married to that girl for over 15 years now!”
He said at the time he decided to run for sheriff, there were some issues that he believed he could fix. As an outsider, not affiliated with anyone in Wheeler County government, it was a tough campaign when he first ran against the then-chief deputy. But he had a passion to serve the people in his home county and believed that with everything that he had gone through in law enforcement, all the training and all the experiences, he could give the citizens of Wheeler County a Sheriff’s Office they could be proud of and a Sheriff’s Office that was both professional and part of the community.
There were many challenges for Sheriff Humphreys to overcome when he became sheriff. In the first two years he had to hire all new deputies, completely change the property/evidence room, and rebuild the Concealed Handgun License program. Since taking over, the agency has set new records with numbers of arrests. One summer there were massive fires followed by a doubling in the SAR callouts. These are just examples; there were many more challenges to be overcome with limited financial means, creating that further conflict of weighing the import of competing interests.
When asked how he approached and overcame the challenges, Sheriff Humphreys said, “It’s crucial to say several things. First, I am very lucky that I have amazing people to work with. The deputies, the office staff, the other elected officials, and all the volunteers. Everyone jumped on board with the vision of what we knew we could do. Secondly, the only way that I survived those first few years was because of organizations like OSSA being there to help me. I remember Sheriff Rob Gordon telling us on the first day of the New Sheriff’s Academy in 2013 that ‘relationships are primary’ and that has proven to be so true.”
In his first term he lived those words, and those relationships often meant the difference between succeeding and failing. “It still amazes me how close, supportive, and incredibly giving the other sheriff’s offices around the State are,” he said.
Wheeler County still faces big challenges. Even though they are a rural county, the issues still mirror the larger trend: mental health, aging population, issues with drugs and addiction, child and family services. Wheeler County does diverge in the sense that the County’s economic status is always a struggle. A combination of issues that include public lands management, the rural location, and a small tax base make for constant funding issues. In that vein, the Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office’s biggest issue is financial solvency so that they can continue to provide services.
Sheriff Humphreys feels the only way they can overcome the lack of financial support is through the commitment of those who work in the County structure. They have a lot of people who think outside the box when it comes to solving problems, especially since they do not have the option of money as a solution. That and the Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office has a huge number of volunteers in the county. People who give a massive amount of time to help respond to emergencies, without which the system would not function.
As Sheriff, Chris’s proudest moment is when he looks at those that he has sworn in as new deputies and reserves. Several years into it he can see them operate, each with their own skill set, confident, gaining expertise in areas. “To have the opportunity to be the person who gave them a shot at this career is something that I feel strongly about,” he added.
For the future, he would like to see a group take a more holistic view of mental health and addiction issues.
He feels that in the age of sound bites and Facebook news feeds, these issues get too politicized and monetized, and the real needs never get addressed.
When asked if he could change one thing, what would it be? “Tough question,” said Sheriff Humphreys. “I think that I would say I wish that Wheeler County had a stronger economic base from which to support our services to the people here. That, and I wish I had more time to work with my bees.”