FAIRFIELD — Among the nearly 100 sworn deputies working in the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, the top cop for 2013 is a deputy with a quick smile, an easy laugh and a day spent dealing with dead people.
For the past four years, Jackson Harris worked as a detective in the coroner’s office. He is one of four detectives whose job is to determine the circumstances, manner and cause of deaths in Solano County. Last year they handled 420 deaths – responding to all fatal car crashes, all non-natural deaths and all deaths of children.
The majority of deaths in Solano County – there were roughly 2,500 last year – do not entail involvement of the coroner.
“We average about one a day that is a death from non-natural circumstances,” Harris said. “Sometimes determining the cause of death can come down to the subtlest of things. The sort of things that can differentiate a suicide from an accidental death.”
For many in the Sheriff’s Office, the work in the coroner’s office is undesirable. Death is something some people do not want to be around.
“There is a stigma to it. No one wants to do it,” Harris said.
Harris, a Fairfield High School graduate, joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2006.
Growing up, Harris wanted to be a doctor. He considers the work in the coroner’s office to be a logical extension of that interest, where scrutiny of medical records and assisting with autopsies are routine parts of the job.
Harris comes from a law enforcement family. His father, Jack Harris, is a former Concord police officer who, after a serious on-the-job motorcycle accident, has made a second career as a prosecutor in the Solano County District Attorney’s Office. Harris has a sister who is a California Highway Patrol dispatcher, another sister who works for the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department and a brother who, at 38, is trying to get into law enforcement.
Harris chose the Sheriff’s Office, believing it offered more diverse opportunities than some other law enforcement agencies. In his years as a deputy, he has served as an emergency driving instructor, worked on a bicycle patrol team, served in the courts as a bailiff and worked with the media doing public relations.
The toughest part of his current duties is not dealing with death, but taking on the duty of notifying the next of kin of the death of their family member.
Bringing tragic news to strangers is typically done with a knock at a door wearing plainclothes, followed by a private talk on a porch using plain terms.
“I had someone with me in a ride-along and they were fine with the dead body, but when we did the notification they couldn’t take it,” he said.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.