Levies would boost deputy, jail staffing

<p>Officer Adam Bredfield leads the Code of Ethics during the Bi-County Reserve Academy commencement in 2011 at Umatilla High School. Among the academy graduates were three reserve officers for the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office. If a levy proposal on the ballot Nov. 5 is approved, the Sheriff’s Office would receive additional funding to hire more sheriff's deputies to patrol the county. Officials hope to raise the current number from seven deputies to 25.</p>

Two levies will hit ballots in November that, if approved, will expand the staffing and services at the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office and the Umatilla County Jail.

The first measure is a county-wide levy that will pay for additional jail staffing and dispatch consolidation costs and other services. The maximum rate would be 40 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The second levy affects taxpayers in Umatilla County in unincorporated areas, except for areas within the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The proposed maximum rate would be 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to provide 24/7 Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office patrol deputies county wide.

In combination with the first levy measure upon which residents will vote, residents living outside cities would pay a total of $1.34 per $1,000 of assessed value. Both levies, if approved, would take effect July 1, 2014.

Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering and Sheriff Terry Rowan visited the Umatilla City Council Tuesday night to share how the levies would benefit county residents.

“A year ago this spring, when I was campaigning for county commissioner, voters upon voters would approach me saying ‘What are we going to do about crime? It is getting out of hand. There is too much of it,’ ” Elfering said.

Elfering said the Umatilla Crime Committee was formed to see if there really had been an increase in crime or if it just appeared that way.

“Our ultimate conclusion was there is a problem,” he said. “It isn’t just a perception, and we need to do something about it.”

Elfering said the committee also concluded something needs to be done to boost the number of county sheriff’s deputies. He said the Sheriff’s Office only has seven deputies to cover all of Umatilla County.

“That is very inadequate as we look around,” he said. “None of the joining counties had that few.”

Sheriff Terry Rowan said when he first started patrolling in the west end of the county, the department had seven patrol deputies at that time and it still does today.

“That is not right,” he said. “There is too much violent crime that occurs every day in this county at some point. I look at my deputies and I see the (worry) in their eyes. They are tired. They can’t keep this overtime thing up. They can’t continue to be called out when they are off duty. My supervisors are the same way.”

Rowan said the sheer size of Umatilla County makes the challenge greater for the department. Umatilla County has more than 3,200 square miles as compared with Morrow County, which stretches approximately 2,000 square miles.

Elfering said the county’s seven deputies approximate about .34 deputies per thousand people. In neighboring counties, the deputy ratio runs anywhere from 1.5 to 1.8 deputies per 1,000 people.

“So, we are really under-manned,” he said.

Elfering said with the passage of the levy, the number of sheriff’s deputies would increase from seven to 25, which would mean greater numbers of arrests in the county and more people going to jail.

As it stands, the jail is not able to operate at full capacity because there are not enough funds to supply a full staff, Rowan said, and the first county-wide levy would help address that issue.

“(The jail) was instituted and built 18 years ago, but we have never been able to fully operate the jail,” Elfering said.

“There was never enough funds (for staffing) to do that. If we put more deputies out on the road, the logical conclusion is that there will be more people spending some nights there.”

Elfering said Rowan has done a remarkable job of making some changes with the funds available, including instituting a 36-hour hold for anybody who is arrested and sent to jail.

Rowan said to really have some impact in the area, officials decided if a person is arrested on a failure-to-appear warrant, they would not get out until coming in front of a judge. If a person is arrested, he or she will also most likely not be released until they either appear before a judge or are held for as long as is legally possible.

“That is where this 36-hour rule comes into play,” he said.

Rowan said the extended hold increases the jail’s population to about 160 to 165 people during the week and about 185 on weekends, but individuals are still being released when they shouldn’t be.

If fully staffed, the county could detain 252 inmates, which is the maximum capacity the jail can hold.

“They committed the crime, they should do the time,” Rowan said.

He said, because Umatilla has a police department, residents may not care whether or not there are additional deputies in the county, but they probably do care that people arrested are taken to jail and held there. “That is the point we’re trying to get across,” Rowan said.

Additionally, Rowan said the first levy will help to cover the added cost of consolidating the county’s dispatch center to accommodate up to 28 agencies as well as costs associated for serving court papers to the public. Rowan said the additional staffing and services will allow the sheriff’s department to be more proactive instead of just reactive as they are now.

“Right now, all of our deputies are reacting to calls that come in, calls for service and complaints,” he said. “With the passage of this, we can become more proactive and come up with more problem-oriented policing and community-oriented policing that will reduce criminal activity.”

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