Duncan named new Linn County undersheriff

By Alex Paul

County Communications Officer

When Michelle Duncan was a teenager in San Jose, Calif., her parents thought her interest in law enforcement as a career might be a passing phase.

But the new Linn County Undersheriff said a high-school career exploration program sealed the deal, and after graduating from Santa Teresa High School, she enrolled in, and graduated with a degree from, the criminal justice program at San Jose Community College.

“I’ve never looked back,” Duncan said from her new office.

She succeeds former Undersheriff Paul Timm, who retired at the end of September.

Duncan, 47, is low-key about the fact she’s the county’s first female undersheriff.

“I have never wanted to be picked because I’m female,” she said. “I wanted to be selected because I am the best person for the job.”

Duncan said she’s come to realize “it’s important that other women see that someone can progress in this field. It’s exciting to be a role model for other women, who can see that with hard work you can do this.”

Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon agrees.

“Michelle was chosen because of her years of experience with the Sheriff’s Office, her excellent service and because she has very good decision-making and problem-solving skills,” he said. “She has strong support from the entire staff.”

Yon added, “She was promoted because of how she does her job.”

Duncan spent her early years in Linn County, attending the former Dixie School on Peoria Road. Her family moved to San Jose when she was about 10 years old.

“My parents thought my interest in law enforcement might just be a phase, but it wasn’t,” she said with a laugh.

Duncan knew she wanted to return to Oregon and she landed a job in corrections at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

“I knew it wasn’t long-term for me, because I always wanted to be on patrol,” she said.

Just over a year into the job, she was hired by Linn County, where she was a resident deputy in Mill City for seven years. She was promoted to detective and worked narcotics for four years, targeting dealers on the streets.

“It was a blast,” Duncan said. “I have always believed that drugs are the root cause of so many issues. They tear apart families and they are factors in property and personal crimes.”

She was promoted to Patrol Sergeant in 2008 and worked with the county’s mountain patrol deputies.

“That’s a unique job,” Duncan said. “It’s very rural and you know that many of the citizens you interact with are carrying a gun.”

In 2015, she was promoted to lieutenant in a newly created position, dealing with contract cities as well as the marine and mountain patrols. She also was the Field Training Coordinator.

She enjoyed working with area communities, listening to their needs and working as a team to make things happen.

“I am a strong believe in field training,” Duncan said. “It’s important how we deal with someone whose home has been burglarized. It’s such a personal crime. We must be sure we teach our new deputies to treat victims right and do everything we can to solve the crime.”

In 2019, she was promoted to Patrol Captain.

I have always believed that every one of our six divisions is important and wanted to know as much as about how they work as possible,” Duncan said.

The divisions are patrol, corrections (jail), detectives, corrections programs (work crew), civil and support services (dispatch).

At full strength, the LCSO employs 190 people and has a budget of $36 million.

“I believe we work best as a team,” Duncan said. “There is a great respect for each other in this office. People who transfer here from other places are amazed at how it feels like a family. We hold people accountable to do their jobs right but they also feel supported.

“I would be honored to serve the citizens as their sheriff at some point. Each time I have moved up through the ranks it has prepared me for the next step to come,” Duncan said of her future possibilities. “I think having a proven leader as the sheriff is important for our office. However, until that time comes, I will focus on being the best undersheriff I can.”

Duncan is married with a 22-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

She enjoys hiking, fishing, doing yard and garden work – even pulling weeds – and football games.

“The word compassion is in our mission statement,” Duncan said. “There’s no reason to be condescending to people.”