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Sheriff candidate Bocciolatt’s colleagues speak in his favor

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He is running for Jefferson County sheriff, but who is John R. Bocciolatt?

He may have been born in Watertown and have 43 first cousins and 43 in-law cousins in the area, as he told supporters during a news conference last Tuesday, but he spent the majority of his law enforcement career across the country, as a detective with the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau.

His record there is rock solid — supervisors and colleagues speak of his abilities in glowing terms — but will it be enough to sway Jefferson County voters, who have voted for internal candidates since 1987?

Mr. Bocciolatt thinks so.

“Although I was a cop in a different place, 90 percent of the job is the same. You’re still responsible for call loads, investigations and public service,” he said.

Mr. Bocciolatt, who is running for the office as a Republican, served for 28 years with the Portland Police Bureau, where he worked homicide, narcotics, gang-unit and hostage cases, eventually rising to the rank of detective sergeant.

His nickname there was “Boo,” because his name, pronounced “bush-a-lot,” apparently was too long and difficult to pronounce in the course of normal duties.

His colleagues, including a retired police captain, a retired district attorney and the current chief of the police in Portland, all gave him a ringing endorsement.

“John and I worked together at the Portland Police Bureau, where he was a highly respected investigator and sergeant. I personally had a lot of respect for his work and dedication,” Portland Police Bureau Chief of Police Mike Reese said in an emailed statement.

One of his former partners, retired police Capt. C.W. Jensen, of Cave Creek, Ariz., spoke of Mr. Bocciolatt’s sense of humor, his ability to get along well with other people and his problem-solving ability.

Most of all, Capt. Jensen spoke of his former colleague’s toughness.

“John was a street cop. John’s been a detective. John’s been in a deadly force incident; he’s investigated deadly force incidents. ... John’s been there,” Capt. Jensen said.

Norman W. Frink, a former chief deputy district attorney with the Multnomah County district attorney’s office, said Mr. Bocciolatt was “an excellent homicide detective” and a “very nice guy.”

And Detective Sgt. Peter Simpson, the public information officer for the Portland Police Bureau, said Mr. Bocciolatt was “one of the best we had,” in an emailed statement.

There is ample evidence that Mr. Bocciolatt attempted to return to Jefferson County at least once before, when he expressed interest in becoming the Watertown city police chief in 1996. He was hampered in that endeavor by a regulation that required the city manager to choose a candidate from within the department.

But it also would appear that Mr. Bocciolatt always had the north country on his mind.

“From the day I met him, he would talk about Watertown and how much he loved it,” Capt. Jensen said. “He may be a fresh look to Jefferson County, but Jefferson County and Watertown have always been in his heart.”

But throughout the history of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, county residents have shown an overwhelming preference for local candidates, especially in recent years.

The last three sheriffs — Donald F. Newberry, James L. Lafferty and John P. Burns — have all come from within the department.

Mr. Newberry, an Antwerp native and Marine Corps veteran, was hired as a deputy sheriff in 1968 and was elected sheriff in 1987. He served from 1987 to 1994.

Mr. Lafferty, who served as sheriff from 1995 to 2002, was hired in 1991 as undersheriff to Mr. Newberry after retiring from a 29-year career with the state police. He worked for the department for three years before announcing his intention to run for the office.

And Mr. Burns had been a deputy for 19 years and a detective for 15 when he won election in 2002 as the first Democrat to hold the office since 1986.

According to state election law, a candidate for sheriff must be 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the same county as the office for which he or she is running.

Mr. Bocciolatt acknowledged that he is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to familiarity with the electorate but said that his accumulated knowledge and experience, which includes a master’s degree in criminal justice administration, would overcome that deficit.

“I think I have some valuable experience that I can mentor with and teach. Do I know it all? Absolutely not. Do I want to know everything? Absolutely,” he said.

Mr. Bocciolatt said that he has been meeting with people from the sheriff’s department to get a sense of what is going well in the department and what needs improvement and that, if elected, he would work a shift with everyone in the department — a task he said would take six to seven months to complete.

And though Mr. Bocciolatt was never a chief or a deputy chief of police, he said his diverse background, which includes two years with the personnel division of the Portland Police Bureau, gives him a high level of comfort when it comes to the prospect of managing the Sheriff’s Department.

“Can I do the admin paperwork and manage? I feel very comfortable with that,” Mr. Bocciolatt said.

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