Though cliché to say, it is true, elections do have consequences.
I write these words for the sole purpose of asking our community to understand the repercussions of Ballot Measure 110 as it relates to local law enforcement. I do not write it as a political statement as I am appointed, not elected. If elected, I would have written this before the vote.
Since my appointment in 2012, a goal of the Hermiston Police Department has been to focus on the livability of people who choose to call this incredible community home. As stated specifically from our goals, “a focus on those issues which impact the livability of the citizens we serve will high priority. This includes noise complaints, animal complaints, controlled substance enforcement, and all code issues including areas of blight consistent with the Broken Windows Theory of policing.”
During the 2017 Oregon legislative session, we saw the first major movement toward decriminalizing controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. That degradation equates to hindered criminal investigations due to the arduous legalities involved with applying for and receiving a search warrant signed by a judge. Contrary to crime shows on television, investigations must be slow and methodical and resources in Eastern Oregon are limited.
I would argue the majority of law enforcement officers across our nation understand the significance of taking away one’s liberty and, though our criminal justice system may not be perfect, we appreciate the fact we are all innocent until proven guilty. With additional hoops to navigate and knowing there is little accountability on the front end, human nature comes into play, and many times, the path of least resistance is often the choice officers working with dwindling resources make.
What this means on our streets is an 85% reduction in drug enforcement over 15 years when looking at our 935 drug-related charges in 2004, versus the 140 drug-related charges in 2019. I used 2004 as a measure because that is when meth labs threatened the livability of our residents. People today still call us when their neighbor is outside smoking marijuana, or atypical foot and vehicle traffic coming and going from a suspected drug house is occurring. While that may adversely impact a caller’s livability, there is next to nothing law enforcement can legally do. With continued decriminalization of controlled substances (now comparable to minor traffic violations), these calls for service are not going to get better for our residents.
Ballot Measure 110, on the surface, appears to be a great move toward getting people into treatment. But, the realist in me cannot help but think about the absolute “kicking of the can” that has taken place in our state specific to mental health, homelessness, addiction, and crime in general. Haphazard spending decisions by the Oregon Legislature have forced police officers to become social workers trying to solve medical issues in the field. Daily calls for service involving people in crisis or under the influence are the new norm. Yet, Eastern Oregon receives next to no state resources and Ballot Measure 110 may further affect the livability of our residents, especially if Salem continues to forget about us.
Our department likes hiring officers who want to live here and raise their families here. But, we cannot fix every social ill thrust upon us without significant resources and changes in laws from our elected leaders at our state capitol. We are the only profession in the world trying to put ourselves out of business, but continued declines in livability through decriminalization will keep us busy even on those calls where our options are limited. For that, we apologize to our residents on the front end.
Jason Edmiston is chief of the Hermiston Police Department.