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Polite, professional, prepared: New Benton County sheriff setting the expectation
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Polite, professional, prepared: New Benton County sheriff setting the expectation

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“Polite, professional and prepared.”

Those are the words new Benton County Sheriff Jefri Van Arsdall said are at the heart of his leadership style and how he expects personnel within his office to conduct themselves. Van Arsdall, sworn in on March 15, said he has high expectations for how his deputies treat the public.

“We are entrusted with a heavy lift for our community,” Van Arsdall said. “With that comes a lot of responsibility, and that’s one of the things that drew me to this profession.”

Gun background check loopholes are again up for debate on Capitol Hill. "But our existing gun laws are irrationally limited, loophole ridden, and inadequate," said Robyn Thomas, the executive director of the Giffords Law Center. "These gaps make it too easy for felons, and mentally unstable people to get their hands on guns and harm others," said Sen. Dick Durbin.So what are these loopholes that currently exist in the country's background check system?Gun show and internet loopholes are two of the most frequently mentioned. Federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run buyers through a background check for every sale, regardless of where that sale is completed. Private and unlicensed sellers don't face that same requirement. So they can sell firearms at gun shows or online without doing a background check, and even gun rights advocates recognize the rise of internet gun sales could be problematic. "Even though we know this is not how most criminals are getting their guns, it is a fairly easy avenue that they could potentially go through. So even though it would be a what I call a low-reward endeavor, in theory, again, it makes sense to address that," said Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.The Charleston loophole is linked to how long it takes to complete a background check. Federal law gives the National Instant Criminal Background Check system three days to process an application for a new firearm. If the check is still pending three business days later, the sale can proceed. The Charleston loophole is named for the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where the shooter bought his gun after the three-day waiting period expired. "It's good in the long run for everyone if the background check system is one speedy and two, you know, the ATF, the FBI have the the manpower and the resources to get them done in a timely manner, and to keep the system updated," said Swearer.In general, a felony conviction of any kind or a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction prohibits someone from buying a gun. Lawmakers want to to add more misdemeanors to that list. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been calling for Congress to close the boyfriend loophole, which allows some people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse to still purchase a gun. And during his 2020 campaign, President Joe Biden said he wants to prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from buying or possessing a firearm. Another concern is the ghost gun loophole. People can purchase kits or partially manufactured firearms that can be turned into untraceable guns without a serial number. That's something President Biden has said he might address using an executive order. "These new weapons that are being made by 3D equipment that arent registered as guns at all, there may be some latitude there as well," said President Biden. The House has passed a bill requiring background checks on all firearms sales and transfers, with a few exceptions. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to bring the bill up for a vote, but it would likely need to be amended to have any chance of passing the Senate.

Van Arsdall said he takes the public service portion of the job to heart and wants people in Benton County to know he welcomes feedback, recommendations, transparency and accountability. Personnel within a publicly funded office should never forget who they work for, he said. He doesn’t see it being an issue in the office he leads as interim sheriff, regularly complimenting the character of Benton County Sheriff’s Office personnel.

“I think these deputies and, I think, most law enforcement professionals do a fine job,” Van Arsdall said. “Unfortunately, like in any profession there’s people … they don’t do the right thing all the time, and there’s checks and balances in place to ensure folks like that are held accountable. It’s sometimes a challenge, but at the end of the day, you want those systems to work so that folks like that are weeded out because they reflect poorly on the good deputies, the good police officers, the good troopers.”

In the midst of familiarizing himself with new software programs and swearing in all new and existing law enforcement staff (a longstanding tradition when a new sheriff takes over), Van Arsdall said he’s been hard at work trying to connect with leaders, organizations and civilians throughout Benton County. He said he’s currently working to set up deputy trainings on crisis intervention and interacting with people with developmental disabilities.

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In addition to the proactive steps he’s taking to gain input from community members, Van Arsdall said he wants people to know he’s available to meet with members of the public if they have questions, concerns or suggestions.

“Call me, email me, come to the office and we can certainly sit down and work through stuff,” he said.

Van Arsdall, who most recently served as undersheriff in Baker County, is no stranger to Benton County. He served as a Corvallis police officer for 18 years. He helped train Nick Hurley, the current Corvallis chief of police. The Philomath chief of police, Ken Rueben, helped train Van Arsdall when he was a new police officer.

His ties to the area run deeper than his professional career. Van Arsdall and wife Raeann’s children — Mason, 18, and Delaney, 21 — were both born in Corvallis. Delaney is a current Oregon State University student and Mason, who just signed a letter of intent to play baseball for Eastern Oregon University, will be dual-enrolled at OSU, Van Arsdall said.

Jefri Van Arsdall mug

Benton County Sheriff Jefri Van Arsdall

Van Arsdall said he’s happy to return to the mid-valley, although the rest of the Van Arsdall family is still living in Baker County as Mason finishes high school. He said he’s been putting a lot of miles on his car traveling to see his family when his schedule permits.

“At the end of the day, when I walk out of this building and I’m all done and hang it all up, I want to make sure that I’ve made a difference in people’s lives,” Van Arsdall said. “That sounds corny, but that’s the end-all, right there.”

K. Rambo can be contacted at 541-812-6091 or k.rambo@lee.net. Follow on Twitter via @k_rambo_.

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