By Frank Morin
Some reports floating around Oregon claim that our local justice worries are over. Apparently, since voters in our county have chosen not to fund the justice system, the state is going to fill in the gap and provide the services for us.
For example, an article from the Associated Press makes it sound like troopers are flooding in to make up the short-fall, and was quoted by several news outlets including The Register-Guard (See http://www.registerguard.com/rg/news/31273599-76/county-josephine-state-troopers-cases.html.csp)
Although it is true that the state police have responded to many calls for assistance and have tried to shoulder as much of the overflow burden as possible, they cannot provide nearly the level of service required now that the Sheriff’s department is all but shut down.
The following article from OPB.ORG has some more details and some additional statistics and offers some good insights as to the challenges created by shifting more OSP resources toward the county. http://www.opb.org/news/article/state-police-bailing-out-understaffed-sheriffs-department/
Unfortunately, both articles leave out some important details.
Lt Kelly Collins from the Central Point OSP recently clarified that although the workload for troopers is sharply higher throughout Josephine County, their response is limited to save-life calls where they come in to deal with immediate problems. However, they lack the resources to follow-up, and their ability to perform investigative actions is extremely limited, meaning that residents that have issues that need that follow-up for resolution are out of luck. For non-life-threatening cases like burglaries, no one is investigating at all.
Both articles reference that 5 new troopers approved by the legislature are planned to be based in Josephine County. Unfortunately, this information is a bit misleading since it does not explain that back in 2010, when we still had a functioning sheriff’s department, there were 12 troopers assigned to this area. Today there are only 9, plus a couple more on loan from Jackson County. So even with the increased trooper presence, which will likely not be felt until late 2015 at the earliest, trooper levels will only be slightly higher than historical levels, not nearly enough to fill in for the 60 deputies let go when local funding was rejected by voters.
Articles also quote a statistic of about 800 referrals for investigation from the sheriff’s office to the OSP detectives in the past year. Unfortunately, that is the number of cases referred to OSP, not the number actually investigated, which is far less.
Given the strong demand for police presence in the county, lack of a functioning sheriff’s department, and minimal response available from the OSP that includes only basic investigative functions, the gap in services is far from being filled.
Not only is no one responding to property crimes like home burglaries, but the drain on OSP resources impacts their primary responsibility of maintaining safe roads, and it is abundantly clear that the state cannot continue providing for free the stop-gap services they have done so far. As much as we appreciate all the work they are doing to try to help, the situation is not sustainable.
The only people who are going to provide for sufficient police presence in the county are the residents of the county, and the only way we can do that is to approve funding because the current situation proves yet again that we cannot get something for nothing.
This year there will be a new levy on the ballot asking voters to approve funding the jail and juvenile justice center. Approval of that levy will go a long way in restoring security services in our county since funds currently being used to pay for the partial jail staffing would be freed up for use in providing more sheriff’s deputy patrols.
For those who criticize the idea of paying for police services through property taxes, please share your ideas for generating the funds. Public safety is everyone’s responsibility, and only working together can we find the best solution.
Until we come up with a better permanent solution, the levy appears to be the best short-term answer.