For over eight years, Sheriff Brian Wolfe has been diligently serving Malheur County. Sheriff Wolfe’s passion for agriculture and the community he serves has helped Malheur County successfully develop and implement public safety solutions that improve livability in the area.
When he’s not serving Malheur County, Sheriff Wolfe spends much of his time helping local ranchers brand and work their cattle – a passion of his that started at an early age. Sheriff Wolfe is also seen helping those in the surrounding area find a location on their property for a well, a skill that’s also known as well witching. The OSSA sat down with Sheriff Wolfe to learn about his background, the Malheur community and a few of challenges their office is working to address. Get to know Sheriff Wolfe in his interview below.
How did you find your way into law enforcement?
In sixth grade, I took a career aptitude test, which told me that I would be a good fit for a career in agriculture or law enforcement. I have always had a passion for agriculture, particularly livestock, and pursued ranching after college. While working cattle in a remote part of Malheur County, I was dumped off my horse and tore my ACL. I was recently married, and during recovery, I started to think about getting a job with benefits and pension that would support a family. The Nyssa Police Department was hiring a school resource officer; I applied and got the position.
I worked in Nyssa for roughly a year before accepting a position in Ontario, working as a patrol man, detective and on the narcotics task force among other things. This was a great experience, but I was pulled toward working for Malheur County because of the great people who live in the community. In March of 1997, I became Malheur County’s Undersheriff and I was elected Sheriff in 2012 after serving the remainder of Sheriff Bentz’ term.
My career in law enforcement has been very rewarding and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the great people in this community.
What makes the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office special?
Everyone in our office takes serving our community seriously, and we subscribe to the theory of doing everything to the best of our ability. For example, because of staffing and the large size of the county, our office didn’t provide 24-hour law enforcement coverage. Last summer we began a program where staff members, me included, pick up an early morning shift to ensure that the county has nearly 24-hour coverage. These people don’t get paid overtime, so it’s not an extra cost to the county.
We have men and women who work in every division of the office and they are some of the best law enforcement personnel in Oregon. All of our staff are a part of the community, and so the service they provide is realized by their family and friends. You would be hard pressed to find a more dedicated staff.
What are some of the challenges facing Malheur County?
Recently, we have noticed an increase in people from larger, more populated areas, buying property in Malheur County. Our culture and the agricultural lifestyle is founded on people being neighborly and lending a hand, and some of the people who are new to the area are still learning our culture. As a result, we have experienced more frequent disputes between longstanding residents and new residents who may move or tear down fences, replacing them with something that’s inadequate for holding livestock. Often, our office gets involved to help settle these disputes and keep the peace.
Unfortunately, Malheur County is also noticing an increase in drug use and its cascading consequences. Methamphetamine and heroine are on the rise and we are now facing challenges on how to address livability and an increase in burglaries and thefts. Cuts to staffing in law enforcement resources across the state have caused us all to be creative and employ community-based public safety models to address some of these rising challenges. Our narcotics division, which is composed of a single person, works closely with families and neighbors, who are helping report suspicious drug-related activity. We have been able to share this information from citizens and cross-communicate with other agencies to better help the people who are being negatively impacted by drug use.
How is the Malheur County Sheriff’s programming addressing needs within your community?
We meet quarterly with a citizen’s advisory group that provides feedback, information about activity in the community and thinks innovatively about how to address challenges. This dedicated 24-member group has been instrumental in helping us think outside the box and develop solutions that most efficiently use our limited resources.
Many people don’t understand the roles and responsibilities of the Office of Sheriff, so we have developed an educational Citizen’s Academy. This six-week course brings together citizens once a week to learn about the Sheriff’s responsibilities, including corrections, Parole and Probation, Search and Rescue, rural crime, investigations and much more.
Because of the rural, agricultural landscape, we have a deputy devoted to meeting with ranchers and recreationalists on the backroads of Malheur County. This helps ensure that people aren’t misusing private property and we are helping to meet the needs of residents in some of the more remote parts of Malheur County. Additionally, we often have Search and Rescue volunteers do livestock patrol. They are assigned to an area and trained to engage and interact with the people they see. In instances where there are empty vehicles on a property or roadside, these volunteers record the date, location and license plate. If there is an incident, we will reach out to the owner of the vehicle to see if they have any information or saw something occur on the property.
What is your favorite part about serving Malheur County?
I love having the opportunity to be out amongst the community, hopefully being helpful and serving the needs of the residents. It may seem cliché, but I am incredibly thankful for my job and the chance to serve the people of Malheur County. I don’t take my role or the support we receive from the community lightly.