WALLA WALLA — At 53, Sgt. Barry Blackman isn’t noticeably older than his opponents running for Walla Walla County Sheriff. But he says he has more experience — at least where it counts.
“I am the candidate with the most local law enforcement experience and the most actual patrol experience,” Blackman has said.
Blackman was born and raised in Walla Walla in what he describes as a poor family. Blackman says he started working at age 9, earning money for school clothes by picking cucumbers, and worked other farm jobs and as a delivery boy for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Max Carrera, Blackman’s campaign chair, said incumbent Sheriff John Turner has attacked Blackman’s education, but Carrera pointed out that education and experience are not just gained through college.
“Barry wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” Carrera said. “Instead he went and served his country.”
In 1978, at 17 years old, Blackman enlisted in the Marine Corps and worked as an aircraft electrical systems technician. He left the Corps as a sergeant four years later and began working as a Walla Walla County Jail custodial officer.
“In 1991, I moved from the jail to patrol,” Blackman said.
After four years as a patrol deputy, Blackman was assigned to the detective’s unit where he remained until he was promoted to patrol sergeant.
Blackman said he considered running for sheriff in 2010, before throwing his support behind current Sheriff Turner. Blackman explained he was unsure of himself four years ago, and Turner proved to be an attractive alternative.
Turner and Blackman had a falling out after Turner promoted Blackman to chief operations deputy in 2011, then demoted him to patrol sergeant in 2013.
Blackman, however, says his misgivings started almost immediately after Turner took office. He added that the time is now right for him to take on his boss for the office.
“I feel I’m ready for it now,” Blackman said.
“He wants the job for the right reasons,” Carrera said.
Blackman says his top priorities are restoring trust to the office, returning to fiscal responsibility and restoring morale within the department, goals not unlike his other opponent and fellow patrol Sgt. Tom Cooper.
The first thing he wants to do, Blackman said, is to get with Walla Walla County commissioners, who’ve grappled with Turner in the past over the sheriff’s proposed budgets.
“We need to get back to positive negotiations,” Blackman said.
Restoring fiscal responsibility and improving trust will also allow the office to deal creatively with a number of issues, like gangs and drugs, Blackman said, adding he hopes to add a gang education officer.
Walla Walla is still a rural area, with rural problems, Blackman pointed out, explaining that as a deputy he might arrest a person one day and later see the person at the grocery store or coach the person’s child in youth sports.
“(Turner) doesn’t have that neighborhood mentality that we do here,” Blackman said, referring to Turner’s career as a police officer in Los Angeles. “It’s a little different world here.”
Blackman said those kinds of relationships will help build a department that is more responsive to the community, including the Latino community, which he claims Turner has largely ignored.
In addition to his main priorities, Blackman plans to revamp the current 12-hour shift, which he says can be a safety issue if deputies are fatigued; rebuild the reserve deputy program; and address the County Jail, which Blackman says is in woeful disrepair.
Blackman acknowledges most of his fire has been aimed at Turner, while he and Cooper have exchanged slight barbs during an election characterized by animus.
Blackman said he and Cooper are running on similar platforms and share many of the same goals. However, Blackman claims he has more law enforcement and supervisory experience than Cooper.
“Tom’s a good guy,” Blackman said. “We have a different management style. I tend to lead a little more by example.”
U-B reporters Terry McConn and Andy Porter contributed to this story. Luke Hegdal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8326.