Polk County Sheriff's Office cutting patrol hours
DALLAS — Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies will not patrol 24 hours a day for the first time in more than two decades, effective Monday, March 11, Sheriff Bob Wolfe announced Friday.
The patrol division will begin working two 10 hour shifts.
The reduction in patrol hours is the result of pending budget cuts effective July 1, 2013, according to Wolfe.
"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 idea of seeking a law enforcement levy. The recommendation of the committee was to seek an operating levy in November 2013.
However, due to loss of Oregon & California Railroad Revested Lands timber funding, Polk County must deal with an $800,000 to $1 million shortfall in the general fund.
The county budget operates on a fiscal year which runs from July 1-Jule 30. Because of this, even if the levy passes in November, the taxes can't be levied until November 2014. So the cuts will have to occur in order to balance the budget.
"With the news of losing up to five patrol deputies by June 30th 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 contracted positions in Grand Ronde will remain on 24-hour patrols. However, due to reductions in funding from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund this next year, these patrols will not be filled during vacation or sick time.
"I am working with Grand Ronde Tribal Police Chief Al LaChance regarding shift coverage on tribal land when our deputy is not available," Wolfe said.
The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde began establishing its own tribal police department last year to handle calls on tribal lands.
Wolfe said Polk County is also discussing its reduced patrol hours with the Oregon State Police and local police chiefs.
"We provide back up 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," Wolfe said.
During times when there are no patrol deputies, working non-urgent calls will be held over until the next shift comes to work. Incidents of high urgency, such as assaults, burglaries and thefts in progress, or injury crashes blocking highways, will require a detective or patrol lieutenant or even the sheriff to respond when available.
"We are going to reduce down from two detectives to only one, having patrol deputies handle more follow up calls," Wolfe said. I intend to keep one member on the POINT (Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team) Team in order to maintain our multi-agency drug countywide drug investigations going."
The sheriffs patrol division will be reduced to absolute minimum staffing. There will only be two patrol deputies per 10 hour shift.
"I will not send any deputy to a high priority call unless they have backup for officer safety reasons," Wolfe said. "I am concerned this will likely result in slowed or delayed response times while the first deputy awaits backup. What worries me is the safety of my employees and the risk to the citizen needing our response."
The Sheriff's Office laid off eight employees last year, mostly out of the jail. This year the reductions will come from the patrol division as the jail has been at minimum staff since last years cuts.