There is no clear path to reverse the sheriff’s announcement last week of a suspension in immediate response to non-criminal calls and reports of certain petty crimes.
Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers informed the public Thursday that patrol deputies will no longer be sent to reports of civil complaints, level violations and certain minor criminal complaints because the sheriff’s office is “extraordinarily low on sworn personnel.
The shortage of certified personnel has been going on for the past year, Landers said, and the bureau has sent clockwork assistants on contract patrol to answer calls in unincorporated areas. The city of Waldport pays hundreds of thousands a year for two deputies, a special tax district in Siletz funds two deputies there, there are two marine deputies primarily funded by the Oregon Marine Board, a landlord-funded forestry officer private foresters and solid waste districts, and a full-time, half-funded position with the Lincoln County School District as a school resource officer.
While performing these duties, deputies will no longer respond outside of their contracted areas, except in an emergency, the sheriff said.
“We were robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Landers said, and they eventually got to the point where they were sending contracted assistants to so many calls that they didn’t meet their contracted hours.
Out of 12 regular patrol assistant positions – not counting detective and supervisory positions, where there are also vacancies – three are unfilled.
As of Sunday, the nine currently active patrol assistants no longer respond to complaints of noise (including barking dogs) when there are no animal service assistants on duty; complaints about the campsite; civil litigation; home or business alarms; general welfare checks; or drug complaints based on personal use amounts. Non-criminal traffic accidents will generally not receive an assistant response.
Criminal complaints involving minor property crimes without suspects will be referred to the bureau’s online reporting system, and those who report can expect delayed follow-up.
Landers told the News-Times he doesn’t know when they might resume normal response. There are five candidates in training, and it can take up to a year for an assistant to be ready to hit the streets solo after their initial hire. Landers said he thinks a candidate is almost ready to start.
“It will be a phased approach,” Landers said. “The first thing we need to do is fill our available positions, train everyone and work, so that we can then assess it, and determine if we are still understaffed with all the positions filled.”
He wants commissioners to allow him to overhire staff, going through the hiring process with one or two extra deputies, in anticipation of needing them to account for attrition. He also told YachatsNews that he was considering proposing a ballot measure for a tax levy that would allow the office to add MPs dedicated to specific areas.
A 2018 ballot measure to raise up to $20 million over five years that promised, among other service improvements, a return to round-the-clock patrols, failed at the polls.
Landers has argued with the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners since at least 2014, when he was an administrative lieutenant, that the office was understaffed compared to other agencies.
In a submission related to a request to restore two positions cut in the 2014-15 budget, Landers pointed to the Benton County Sheriff‘s Office, which at the time served a population of 27,000, compared to 23,000 in the jurisdiction of the Landers, not counting tourists.
However, Lincoln County responded to an average of 800 more criminal offenses per year than its neighbors’ 1,500, while Benton County had seven more patrol assistants and nearly double Lincoln’s supervisory staff. .
Landers at the time predicted the county would see 27,000 calls for service by 2017. There were actually over 30,000. Landers explained, calls for duty are still about double what they were 20 years ago (about 13,000 in 2002), when his office still had roughly the same number of patrol personnel.
According to its annual report, the sheriff’s office responded to nearly 30,000 calls for service in 2018, about 27,000 in 2019, and as many as 27,359 in 2020. There were a few hundred more in 2021, and Landers said the trend appears to have returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
Gouvernant, a government analytics news site, reported in 2014 that the average number of sworn law enforcement officers per 10,000 residents in 773 jurisdictions with between 25,000 and 50,000 residents was 17, 1 and the median of 16.
By a rough calculation, there are about eight deputies — including sergeants and detectives — for every 10,000 residents in the regular jurisdiction of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, again not accounting for the seasonal tourist population. Figures do not include corrections assistants in the prison or uncertified staff such as animal services and community service officers.
Hiring at the sheriff’s office has been hampered by a requirement that positions remain vacant for six months during the pandemic, he said. Given a recent promising showing among qualified candidates — which he said was a cyclical trend — Landers said he hoped they would fill vacancies and could convince voters or commissioners to add to the capacity.
Commissioner Claire Hall, chair of the board, said the commissioners “stand ready to support the sheriff during this big change for deputies and the public”.
Commissioners cannot direct the elected sheriff in policy or operations, but they are responsible for setting their budget. However, Hall said she doesn’t view the issue as budgetary.
“We’ve always prioritized law enforcement,” Hall said. “Most of the General Fund budget has long been devoted to public safety.”
Forty-seven percent of the county’s general fund’s $48.6 million in the 2022-23 budget is allocated to public safety, and the sheriff’s office is the primary beneficiary of that portion, with $4.6 million. budgeted for the patrol division. The office’s total budget for 2022-23 is approximately $17 million, most of which goes to prison operations, as well as emergency management and other functions.
“Our compensation is competitive, in fact, a survey has shown it to be significantly higher than in other jurisdictions,” Hall said. And even if the board were to budget for two additional deputies, Hall said the difficulty of hiring made the point moot.
“Frankly, the sheriff’s announcement surprised me,” Hall said. “We’re generally in close communication, but we didn’t receive any notice until an email about an hour before the public release.”
Landers said he doesn’t take the news as a surprise, as he has repeatedly indicated such a move is likely. He raised the possibility of a shift in service due to staffing during budget discussions, he said, and earlier this year MPs agreed to work 12-hour shifts to distribute as much resources as possible.