Newly elected Sheriff Eric Peter took the oath of office on Dec. 30, in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the San Juan Superior Courtroom.
Although the incoming sheriff would not take the helm officially until one minute after midnight Sunday, Jan. 1, the ceremony served to officially begin the transfer of authority.
During an interview with the Journal immediately following the submission of official paperwork after being sworn in, Sheriff Peter admitted it was “overwhelming” to see such a show of support.
“I felt so much happiness when I saw that (the crowd). Especially when I saw how happy they were. You could feel the love in the room. And you don’t get that in the big city. It’s a joy to work in a place, especially in this profession, where that’s what you get. Because I didn’t get it for 22 years (in Texas). And I don’t take it for granted. Not one single day,” he said.
Asked if he ever saw himself serving as sheriff one day, Peter responded: “When I was a rookie, and later running around on the gang task force, not only did I not believe I would work in a place like this. I never thought back then, it never crossed my mind, that ‘Hey, you may be the head of the agency one day.’”
“One thing people are gonna get though, is high energy and high effort every day,” says Peter. “And that will be the message. Be high effort because if I have more energy than everybody else, then they need to step it up. And I think that everybody will.”
Not new to the department — Peter began work in the San Juan County Sheriff’s office as a deputy in 2017, and was promoted to sergeant in 2018 — as newly elected sheriff, Peter plans to hit the ground running, and has appointed new command staff to the department. to help him get things underway.
“Our new undersheriff is going to be Michael Hairston,” Peter explained. “He’s a retired officer from Farmers Branch, Texas. He has about 34 years on now. Most of what the undersheriff’s job is are what he did in his old agency. And he’s infinitely more qualified to be the undersheriff than everybody in this agency put together, and there are a lot of people who agree with me on that. I’m very confident that there’s zero I have to work out with him to get the job done. David Alexander, he’s going to be our new chief criminal deputy. He has 28 years on right now. He’s a retired Sergeant from San Bernardino County. He was a supervisor in one of their corrections facilities for a while and he supervised the detective unit.”
Added Peter: “They’re both like me, they are ecstatic to be out of the big city and somewhere where people actually like you and smile at you and wave at you with more than one finger. They’re on the same high I am. I’m still excited every day to be out in public. It doesn’t get old.”
Peter met with former sheriff Ron Krebs to discuss future plans.
“Ron did hire me, and I’m very grateful for that,” he said. “I told him that I thank him for the opportunity to live in the place we vacationed for 10 years. When we sat down and talked I did not just thank him for the opportunity to be here, but at one point I said I don’t know what your plans are but there will be a position here if you would like to stay.”
Krebs will be staying on as a deputy with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Department.
When asked what the first few weeks will look like, Peter says “the first week or two is pretty busy, stacked with meetings. There are several departments and different agencies that want to talk with me and have them meet Mike and Dave.”
Peter is a staunch advocate for positive community engagement, with a number of plans in the works for improving community relations with the department.
“I’m already planning, I just need to figure out the locations and the dates, the first Coffee With A Cop community engagement,” he said. “I want people to get out and know that hey, we’re here to get to know you, we all live together. We’re humans, you’re humans. We’re not going to know each other if we don’t get out and talk to each other. Mike and Dave both live on Orcas, which is fine. They can commute over here. I like having some of the command staff on a different island because Orcas gets to see someone from the command staff now. If we need somebody to go to Lopez, which is going to happen on a routine basis, one of them or maybe me, we’re gonna go to Lopez and see people.”
Peter also is working closely with the County Parks and Fair Director Brandon Cadwell and his staff to begin working out the details for participating in “National Night Out.” It is a community-police awareness-raising event in the United States, held on the first Tuesday of August.
“There will definitely be a large presence,” he said. “The supervisor on this island, Zac Reiner, will be there. I will be there. If I can get both command staff over here at the same time they will be here. And trainings, more trainings. I’ll have an announcement to make in the first part of the year about some trainings that are scheduled for our department.”
Peter also plans to implement improved communications practices with the community, expressing a keen interest in being able to share emergency information with the public in real-time. To that end, Peter is exploring “Cell 411,” a decentralized, micro-social platform that allows users to issue emergency alerts and respond to alerts issued by others.
“I especially look forward to communicating more and working together with the Prosecuting Attorney’s office, with Safe San Juan, with our victims’ advocates, with the Family Resource Center, with Compass,” he added. “I’m very excited about meeting with them and trying to work to help get people the help they need.”