Frustrated residents want more done about county crime

Commissioner Larry Givens

By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

HERMISTON — About 50 county residents met with the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night to wrangle over the level of law enforcement inside the county.

Commissioners Dennis Doherty and Larry Givens were in attendance — Commissioner Bill Hansell was unable to attend due to a doctor's appointment — as well as Robert Pahl, finance director and Budget Officer Bob Heffner.

The BOC asked for questions to be submitted before the meeting so they would be prepared to answer. Givens spent a lot of his time apologizing for not being able to answer questions that only the sheriff himself could answer — because it is Sheriff John Trumbo's department — or being able to help the sheriff with his budgetary problems without creating problems for other departments.

"There's not enough to go around," said Givens.

The sheriff's office budget —which includes 9-1-1 dispatch, the county jail, both criminal and civil divisions and courthouse security — is currently 50.67 percent of the county's discretionary resources. Discretionary resources are monies the county receives which do not have any strings attached to them by the state or federal government.

Responding to a pre-written question as to why the commissioners do not get more involved in the operations of the sheriff's department, Givens said the board is hesitant to micromanage Trumbo's department. The BOC has authority over the budget, but the day-to-day operations of the sheriff's office are left to him.

"But how the staff is utilized — commissioners don't get involved and we don't have the authority to get involved," Givens said.

Tuesday's meeting was a bit of a switch from a meeting in December with the sheriff and citizens, in which there were questions the sheriff said only the county commissioners could answer.

That prompted Tuesday's meeting with the commissioners.

The commissioners were asked why they simply don't provide the sheriff's department with a bigger budget to enable it to provide more deputies.

When it comes to budgeting, Givens says if the board takes money from another department, there are just as many people who would be upset by the cuts as the people crowding into the meeting room at Stafford Hansell.

For Lloyd Piercy, a farmer in Umatilla County, there is a crime wave in the county and it needs to be addressed.

"At the end of the day, it isn't about numbers, it's about fighting this crime wave," Piercy said.

Piercy pointed out the increase in the 9-1-1 dispatch budget compared to the criminal division's increase since 1996. The 9-1-1 dispatch increased from a yearly budget of $81,238 in 1996 to $1.41 million in 2008. The criminal division increased from about $1 million in 1996 to $1.54 million in 2008.

"I don't have to look very far to see where your problems are," Piercy said. "I see a 53-percent increase in action and a 1,636-percent increase in talk."

Richard Stokoe, a candidate for sheriff in the May election, offered himself as an alternative to the current sheriff.

"The board of commissioners is doing the best job they can," said Stokoe. If elected, Stokoe said he would keep the BOC informed about "what is going on in the county."

Ron Baxter, another resident from the county, believes more patrols are needed. He indicated 70 percent of the crimes occur in the west end of Umatilla County and the sheriff only has 30 percent of his deputies patrolling the area.

Gary Walls agreed with Baxter. He says he has called the dispatch number and been told no officer was on duty.

"I'm sick and tired of it," Walls said. "You guys need to start thinking about the future."

Karen Hutchinson-Talaski can be reached at ktalaski@hermistonherald.com.

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