Dexter/Pleasant Hill, Front Page, Lowell/Jasper/Fall Creek, Oakridge/Westfir

County to consider adding eight deputies to sheriff’s office during Tuesday meeting

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LANE county sheriff's department,patrol car
Five patrol deputies would be added to help provide law enforcement over an area the size of Connecticut. Lane County Sheriff's Office

By DEAN REA/Editor/The Herald—Eight deputies will be added to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office if Lane County commissioners approve funding for the project during their Tuesday meeting.

Five deputies would be assigned to the emergency response force, two as detectives and the eighth as a deputy sergeant as part of the county commission’s Ten-Year Public Safety Plan adopted in 2014.

The proposal is to allocate $7.2 million over five years in forthcoming Road Fund Service Stabilization Reserve payments to fund the positions and allocating the balance estimated at $6.5 million earmarked for future improvements to Territorial Highway and replenishing the Road Fund Service Stabilization Reserve.

The financing method is recommended by Steve Mokrohisky, county administrator; Dan Hurley, public works director, and Cliff Harrold, sheriff.

Background report

The background report states:

“The current level of detectives and emergency response deputies is insufficient for the population base and geographic area of Lane County. In the 1970s, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office had over 100 budgeted deputy sheriffs to provide countywide patrol response. The large amount of federal timber revenue earmarked for the county general fund supported this robust level of service.

“Today there are 25 budgeted deputy sheriffs for that same function and the population has increased by over 175,000 residents. This is an increase in population of 82 percent from 1970, and yet our countywide resource for patrol is 25 percent of what it was at that time. By 2014, deep cuts due to the loss of timber revenue and Secure Rural Schools Funding nearly caused the collapse of the Public Safety System.”

The report also states that “current funding for the sheriff’s office only provides for 25 full-time employees assigned to provide law enforcement response across the 4,600 square miles of the county. Those employees are spread across 24 hours a day, seven days a week, resulting in very long response times to life safety issues and most often no response to property crime issues.

“Minimum staffing levels are three deputies and a sergeant to staff the day and swing shifts and two deputies and a sergeant to staff the graveyard shift. Contract deputies do not work during the graveyard shift so are not available to assist in emergencies. Additionally, the local Oregon State Police office does not have 24-hour daily staffing. Having only three law enforcement officers responsible for emergency response calls for service is unsafe and adds significant stress and anxiety to the deputies and their families who provide this service.

“The increase of two detectives will also allow for sustainability in services for the most serious criminal investigations and potentially increase the abilities of the sheriff’s office to provide some enhanced investigative services.”

Highway 58 policing

Several Highway 58 communities and rural areas are dependent upon the sheriff’s office for law enforcement. These rural areas include Jasper and Fall Creek. Oakridge, which maintains a police force, is the exception. Lowell and Westfir contract with Oakridge to provide police protection for 40 hours a month. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This story corrects an earlier version that reported, incorrectly, that Westfir relies on the sheriff’s office for protection.)

Pleasant Hill and Dexter depend on the sheriff’s office for this service along with the help, primarily traffic control, from Oregon State Police.

Lowell city councilors have voiced concern about theft and vandalism in that community of 1,000 but have been deterred from providing police protection 24 hours a day because of the cost.

Elsewhere in Lane County, to meet Mohawk Valley residents’ requests for more law enforcement help, a taxing district proposal was proposed last spring but defeated May 18 at the ballot box. Under the plan, the sheriff would have assigned a deputy to reside in the valley.

Other responsibilities

The Sheriff’s Office provides an array of correctional services, including a jail, a community corrections center, work-release and out-of-custody programs such as community service and an inmate work crew.

Deputies provide patrol of urban, suburban and rural areas, including timberlands, waterways, and coastal dune areas. Police service includes criminal investigation, court security, prisoner transport, process services (criminal and civil).

Evidence and property management, criminal justice records (corrections and police), 24/7 dispatch center and search and rescue functions round out the services the office delivers.

Nearly 300 staff, along with many volunteers, support these services and utilize land, marine, air and other resources.

 

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