Sheriff L. Shane Nelson – A Bend Story

Bend Sheriff L. Shane Nelson – Photo: Tor Hanson

Originally published in Bend Business and Lifestyle Magazine – 2017

BBLCover2017L. Shane Nelson is the new sheriff in town. Elected in November 2016, he and his 229 employees – of whom 174 are sworn deputies – provide safety and security for one of Oregon’s largest and most diversified regions. As Bend and its surroundings approach new population highs, the Sheriff’s Office is accepting the challenges head on.

Deschutes County recently celebrated its 100-year anniversary. The Sheriff’s Office is equally old. Nelson is the county’s ninth sheriff, with Sheriff Samuel E. Roberts the first to hold office in Bend. The position carries a lot of weight in what goes on outside of Bend, Redmond, Sunriver, and Sisters’ city limits, areas served by respective city’s police departments.

A friendly soul with a firm handshake, Bend’s new Sheriff, L. Shane Nelson, is one of the younger sheriffs in Oregon.

“I’m not the youngest,” said Nelson with a smile.

Nelson is a product of Bend. A true Bendite, he was raised by his parents in one of the many family neighborhoods in town. He is familiar with the saying; “It takes a village to raise a child.”

An adventurous kid growing up, he was often spotted by neighbors or family friends in different places around town. “They would ask me, ‘Hey, do your parents know that you are here?’” said Nelson.

A Mountain View graduate, he went off to Oregon State University for college studies. Four years later, Nelson graduated with a degree in speech communication. More than twenty years later, he is wholly involved in law enforcement. Nelson’s Bend upbringing influences his approach as Sheriff.

“One of the things that I value the most is that true sense of ‘treat people like you want your family members to be treated,’” said Nelson. “You don’t just look at what is going on with your family and your own responsibilities, but how your actions impacts others in the community. That’s what I took away from growing up here.”

Funding the Sheriff’s Office will become a critical issue with an area bursting at the seams. Current population estimates for Deschutes County, fix the number at a little bit more than 170,000 in 2015. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The county seat of Bend is slowly nearing the 100,000 mark. For Nelson and his deputies, that means covering a vast land area with residents living far and few between. Providing safety and security comes down to community support, according to Nelson.

“We are blessed around here! We have great public safety in Deschutes County. We have great first response organizations and support organizations. The reason that we have all these great organizations is because we have tremendous community support.”

But an active support group alone is not going to solve the growing pains.

“[The Sheriff’s Office] is going to see a continued need for resources as the area grows,” said Nelson. “We will always pay careful attention to the money that citizens entrust us with. We want to spend it responsibly, while keeping in mind the level of service the citizens expect us to deliver.”

Community support does offset a part of Nelson’s budget. The Sheriff’s Office has 380 volunteers on call.

“People volunteer their time as reserve deputy sheriffs, help with search and rescue missions, mentors with children of incarcerated parents, act as ambassadors at public events, and help with office work. That’s an investment in time worth about a million dollars to the tax payers.”

The Sheriff’s Office is thankful for the support from the community and are happy to pay back in kind.

“Our sheriff deputies have moved furniture from a church when it started flooding, because of a break in the water main,” said Nelson. “We have delivered Christmas trees, stacked wood, brought in wood, and made meals. We are supporting our community. And the way you do that, is by treating people how you want your family members to be treated.”

For most of his time in the office, Bend’s first sheriff, S.E. Roberts, dealt with the legal ramifications of the Volstead Act, or Prohibition. Oregon became a dry state in 1916 and by 1928, the sheriff’s office had confiscated 200 stills. By the time the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, Roberts had retired and Sheriff Claude L. McCauley transitioned Deschutes County from a “dry” to a “wet” county. Many years later, Sheriff Nelson is dealing with the legalization of marijuana.

“I was opposed to the legalization of marijuana, yet I respect the voter’s decision. Marijuana creates a challenging situation as it is still against federal law. I have significant concerns about how the legalization of marijuana is going to affect our youth and the impact it will have on the deployment of sheriff’s office services in the future,” said Nelson.

“I have met some great people who are involved in the industry and they have a product they want to sell legally. My hope is that the industry is promoting responsible use, responsible manufacturers, and responsible retail.”

Central Oregon’s first Sheriff, S.E. Roberts (left) and his patrol car after a successful raid on high desert moonshiners. Courtesy: Deschutes Historical Museum

A lot of things have changed since Sheriff Roberts was chasing moonshiners on the high desert. Sheriff Roberts would have been impressed with Nelson’s new patrol cars. Instant communication between the sheriff and his deputies were non-existent in the 1920s. If you were lucky, there was a phone nearby to make a call to the station. The Sheriff Office’s new patrol cars are a rolling marvel of technology.

Tech aside, the mission of the Sheriff has been the same since Deschutes County broke loose from Crook County. The tag line of all patrol cars says it all: Proudly Serving for 100 Years.