By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

Polk sheriff slashing patrol hours

The patrol division will be cutting back to two 10-hour shifts a day, leaving a four-hour gap, according to Sheriff Bob Wolfe. The reduction stems from budget cuts looming with the July 1 start of the 2013-14 fiscal year, he said.

“Why make the reductions effective in March?” Wolfe said. “The reductions are necessary now due to staffing changes occurring now.”

The Polk County Board of Commissioners appointed a citizen committee in January to examine the possibility of a dedicated law enforcement levy. Its recommendation was to put a measure before voters in November.

However, due to loss of Oregon & California Railroad timber funding, Polk County must deal with an $800,000 to $1 million general fund shortfall in the meantime. And that doesn’t leave Wolfe with enough funding for 24-hour service.

The county budget operates on a fiscal year running July 1 to June 30. So a tax enacted in November would not be collected initially until November 2014. The revenue could not be fully incorporated into the county budget process until the 2015-16 fiscal year, two years hence.

“With the news of losing up to five patrol deputies by June 30 of this year, several deputies have started looking for work elsewhere,” Wolfe said. “We have had one recent resignation, another deputy has been given a conditional offer with another agency and then a third deputy has requested transfer to the corrections division, which is currently down two positions.”

The contract force in Grand Ronde, funded by the tribe, will remain on 24-hour duty. However, deputies assigned there will not be replaced from the main corps when they take sick time or vacation time, starting next year.

“I am working with the Grand Ronde tribal police chief regarding shift coverage on tribal land,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said he was in the process of letting his mutual aid partners know of the county’s reduced availability. “We provide backup to the local agencies when requested during emergency incidents, as well as cover serious crashes on state highways until OSP can send troopers, so they need to know we are not always going to be available,” he said.

During times when there are no patrol deputies on duty, non-emergency calls will be held over until the next shift reports. Calls regarding urgent matters, including assaults, burglaries, thefts in progress and injury crashes blocking highways, will have a response from a detective, a lieutenant or even the sheriff himself.

In addition to the patrol cuts, Wolfe said, “We are going to reduce down from two detectives to only one, having patrol deputies to handle more follow up calls.” But he said, “I intend to keep one member on the POINT team in order to maintain our multi-agency drug investigations going.”

The sheriff said the county will be fielding two patrol deputies per 10-hour shift, the minimum to maintain backup capability. He said, “I will not send any deputy to a high-priority call unless he has a backup, for officer-safety reasons.

“I am concerned this will likely result in slowed or delayed response times, while the first deputy awaits backup,” he said. But he said he can’t compromise on officer safety.

The Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office extended sympathy and a pledge of support.

“I have discussed those cuts with Sheriff Wolfe and he knows that we will do what we can to assist him during these tough times,” said Sheriff Jack Crabtree. “Polk County is our neighbor and we of course are very concerned about the impact this will have on public safety.”

He added, “Though our budget is extremely lean, I am appreciative the absence of any planned cutbacks to our rural patrol deputies in this upcoming year.”

Polk County’s decision to slash patrol hours is not expected to have a large impact on Yamhill County, he said. About half of Willamina lies in Polk County, but the city contracts with Yamhill County for law enforcement services, he noted.

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