Pat Garrett, OSSA President & Washington County Sheriff
Spring – There are several responsibilities the sheriffs have in common regardless of the county they serve. For example, all sheriffs set the leadership tone, communicate with our community and within our organizations, set goals, put the right people in the right positions, implement change, provide training and equipment, and resource our mission. “Resourcing” is of critical importance as Oregon faces a $1.7 billion deficit this next biennium, putting critical law enforcement services at risk.
Much of our success at conserving the peace relies on important partner agency services like that of the Oregon State Police (OSP) Crime Labs. Unfortunately, as our friends in northeast Oregon know, budget proposals by the Governor and legislative leadership may include closing the OSP Crime Lab in Pendleton. The closure leaves Eastern Oregon with no crime lab as the Ontario lab closed several years ago. Staff from many sheriff ’s offices east of the Cascades will be forced to drive evidence to Portland or Bend for analysis incurring additional cost and consuming valuable time. Response times will increase for OSP forensics experts needed to help investigate major crimes in eastern Oregon. Additionally, recent weather-related closures of I-84 in the Columbia River Gorge make it evident a response from Portland is unreliable. Moreover, the same budget proposal includes the elimination of most OSP drug detectives, devastating important teams which investigate major drug crimes and possibly dissolving several task forces designated with investigating commercial drug traffickers.
Equally important to every Oregon sheriff ’s office is maintaining state public safety training academy funding to continue the current number of Basic Police and Corrections Academy classes to minimize delays in training new public safety professionals. A recent sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ survey revealed nearly 1,000 deputies, police officers, and troopers are eligible to retire this next biennium. The current yearly schedule of 20 Basic Police classes and nine Basic Corrections classes is necessary to backfill vacancies in a way that avoids dangerous delays in replacing public safety professionals.
Also critical, in 2013 legislators agreed to provide funding to bolster county community corrections services to locally supervise additional serious offenders who would otherwise be in prison. The program is known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The goal is noble: reduce the number of offenders who go back to prison and improve public safety with wrap-around, intensive, accountable supervision. However, this can only be achieved with adequate funding from the state. The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, joined by the Associations of the District Attorneys and Police Chiefs, agreed to this program to help the state lower the cost to prisons and avoid, or significantly delay, the cost to build new ones. JRI funding for this current biennium totaled $38.7 million dollars, which avoided additional costs to the state of $58.5 million in prison operating and maintenance according to the Department of Corrections. Since 2013, JRI allowed Oregon to avoid spending $140 million to build a new prison. JRI must be fully funded at $52.7 million this next biennium so parole and probation officers and sheriff’s deputies across Oregon can continue our encouraging trajectory without jeopardizing community safety.
You can help.
Sheriffs recognize and appreciate the challenging work by our elected legislators as they decide where to allocate resources. They need to hear directly from you, as a voice for public safety in our respective communities. I invite you to contact your elected legislators and get involved in these important community safety topics; to keep the Pendleton Crime Lab open, maintain basic academies at 20 for police and nine for corrections, and fully fund Justice Reinvestment at $52.7 million.
You can learn about your representatives and how to contact them via the Oregon Legislature website: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/house/Pages/RepresentativesAll.aspx.
Thank you for your support to the men and women at your sheriff’s office. They do a great job keeping you safe and managing risk day and night. It is our turn to help them and properly resource these brave professionals into the future.