Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group
                                Island County Sheriff Mark Brown stands in front of the law and justice center.

Photo by Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group Island County Sheriff Mark Brown stands in front of the law and justice center.

Sheriff Brown will walk off into sunset

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown’s career in law enforcement will come to in end in a few months after 44 years on the job.

Brown decided not to run for re-election after three terms and will instead direct his attention to pursuits with much less responsibility, like traveling or helping his wife with real estate signs.

He will be missed by many in the community, who chose him as “best law enforcement officer” in this year’s Best of Whidbey contest. He also placed second in the “best community leader” category, behind Oak Harbor Schools Superintendent Lance Gibbon.

It’s been an eventful 12 years for Brown, who’s known for his “Boy Scout” image and easygoing manner.

“It’s been a ride, I’ll tell you,” he said.

Brown grew up in Heppner, Ore., on a farm that’s been in his family for 120 years. He graduated from the University of Oregon and then went into the Navy for just under four years. After a short stint as a bar tender, he decided to work for the Washington State Patrol. He was commissioned as a state trooper in 1977.

Brown was named Trooper of the Year for the state in 1984. He was later named Trooper of the Year for District 7, which includes Whidbey Island.

Brown retired from the state patrol in 2002 and went to work in the patrol’s commercial vehicle division. Then in 2005, a group of deputies from the Island County Sheriff’s Office approached him and asked that he run for sheriff.

He agreed.

Jill Johnson was part of Brown’s original campaign committee and now works with him regularly in her position as county commission. She describes him as an honest and kind man.

“He genuinely wants the best for everyone and I think we have been blessed to have him as our sheriff for 12 years,” she said. “Plus, he laughs at all my jokes and how can you not love that?”

Likewise, Animal Control Officer Carol Barnes helped with his campaign.

“I have worked with Sheriff Mark Brown for the past twelve years, she said. “I have found him to be honorable, compassionate and dedicated to the citizens of Island County, to the law enforcement community and his family. “

Brown said he believes three things are vital to being sheriff — integrity, honesty and transparency. He said he learned early on the importance of being open and having a good relationship with the media. He said the media have helped him catch bad guys and get the word out about things that have happened.

“It’s absolutely crucial in the role of a sheriff,” he said.

Brown said he sees his role as a “caretaker” of the office. Practicality and common sense are important. When he he took office, he planned to increase staffing significantly, but then reality and the recession hit. He lost more than 20 percent of his staffing and still hasn’t returned to the levels before 2007.

Brown said trauma, heart ache and challenges are part of the job. The most difficult and heart-wrenching time was when 25-year-old Keaton Farris died from dehydration in the jail. There was also the Barefoot Bandit, several murders, a deputy-involved shooting and plenty of weird events.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said Brown unfailingly rose to meet the challenges he faced.

“Mark takes the sheriff’s duties very personally,” he said. “For better or worse, he has owned everything that happened in the office under his leadership. He is a man built on a solid foundation and guided by an unwavering moral compass. The things that make him a great person also made him a great sheriff.”

Brown said he expects the transition to the next sheriff will be smooth, no matter who wins in November. He said the next sheriff will inherit a department that’s running well.

“One of the things I’m most proud of are the men and women working for me the last two or three years,” he said. “It’s the best staff of people I’ve ever had.”

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