‘Let it roll off’
Undersheriff has passion for public service, but humor keeps her grounded
January 20, 2011
Charlene Abdella walked into a bar.
It was the early 1990s and the bar was The White Horse Inn, which no longer stands. With her were two other female Craig Police Department officers and they were looking for someone who had been in a bar fight.
As the three walked through the crowd, a man propped on a bar stool noticed the three women and made a comment Abdella said was unfit for print.
But, the comment didn't shake her.
"You could, if you wanted to, get mad and get into trouble about it," she said. "But, you just let it roll off. You can't let things like that bother you."
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Today, the 53-year-old Moffat County Undersheriff looks back at the incident and laughs about it.
Such is the philosophy she holds as second in command of the Moffat County Sheriff's Office and the county's first
"You can't let someone's stupidity or the things that they say to you affect you because they win," she said.
Abdella was born in Denver, raised in Glenwood Springs and came to Craig in 1980.
She has two children — Annie, 33, and Bobby, 31.
She started working at the police department in 1989 as a dispatcher. She then joined the reserve program and started volunteer training with an eye on becoming a full-time patrol officer, which she reached early in 1990.
Abdella worked in law enforcement alongside her husband, Blake, who at the time worked for the sheriff's office.
"It just kind of drew me in," she said. "I think it is one of those careers that you know right away when you are touched by it in some way, some form."
She continued to work patrol, but eventually found an opening in the department's investigation department after a year and a half on the streets.
She was encouraged to apply for the position and after testing, she was promoted to juvenile investigator, a position she retained for six years.
"It was a very challenging position, but I enjoyed it," she said. "It encompassed investigating all child abuse and any crimes committed by children or against children. “I investigated all of those and usually ended up doing all of the adult sexual assault cases as well just because everyone thinks that victims would prefer to talk to women," she said.
Those years had an impact on the way Abdella now looks at the world, but it's not something she dwells on, she said.
"It is just so horrendous some of the things you have to deal with or the person had to deal with that you are trying to help," she said. "You can't stay completely cut off all the time. That is just not in my makeup."
Later, Abdella decided to take a break from law enforcement and started Pro Image Photography, which she and Blake owned for about 10 years.
"Sometimes I think it is good to get a new perspective," she said.
However, in 2007, when Tim Jantz was sworn in as sheriff, he named Abdella his undersheriff, placing her back into law enforcement.
Jantz said gender was not a consideration when he was deciding who would be his undersheriff.
"There is no doubt that she has the attitude and the personal presence to hold her own," he said of Abdella. "She has proven that many years ago as a street officer and so it's an equal basis. There is nobody above or below her as far her willingness and aptitude to do the job."
Jantz said Abdella has a certain presence about her.
"What people see is a dynamic person and I'm sure there are a lot of people that see it as a dynamic female," he said. "But, what I sense about it is that she is dynamic in how she communicates with people and that she knows her business and is professional."
Abdella said it was quite a leap to reenter law enforcement, but she said she missed it while working in photography.
"Going back was exciting and it was also a little scary because I had been gone for a while," she said. "And, it's a different position, as well."
As undersheriff, Abdella is in charge of the department's budget, personnel and other administrative duties. She also helps manage the jail staff and steps in to help in Jantz' absence.
"I like being a part of something that is helpful to other people," she said of law enforcement. "It really is valuable to the community and it's a necessity. I always felt like I did it pretty well, especially when I was working with the victims. It was difficult, but it was gratifying at the same time to be able to help them."
Abdella said her career path was not a dominant career path for women at the time she joined the police department.
But, much of that is changing with the times, she said.
Aside from the occasional guff she might have taken while on patrol duty, Abdella said the attitude was much different from inside the office.
"I really didn't have a problem coming through the ranks as far as people giving me a hard time about being a woman," she said. "Some of that stems from growing up a tom boy and just hanging out with the guys most of the time anyways.
"You just can't let it affect you if comments are made. You know, it just rolls off."