For the first time since the early 1980s, Polk County Deputies will not be patrolling 24 hours a day. Sheriff Bob Wolfe announced that effective March 11, 2013, our 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. So why make the reductions effective in March? Sheriff Bob Wolfe stated, "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 O & C Timber funding Polk County must deal with an $800,000 to $1,000,000 shortfall in the general fund. The County budget operates on a fiscal year, which runs from July 1 - June 30. Because of this, even if the levy passes in November of 2013, the taxes cannot be levied until November of 2014. Therefore, the cuts will have to occur in order to balance the budget.
Sheriff Bob Wolfe stated, "With the news of losing up to five patrol deputies by June 30 of this year, several deputies have started looking for work elsewhere. 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. Sheriff Bob Wolfe stated, "I am working with Grand Ronde Tribal Police Chief Al LaChance regarding shift coverage on Tribal Land when our deputy is not available." The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde began establishing its own tribal police department last year to handle calls on tribal lands.
We are also talking with the Oregon State Police and local Police Chiefs regarding our reduced hours of patrol and the impacts this will have on those agencies. Sheriff Bob Wolfe stated, "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."
During the times 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 the Patrol Lieutenant, or even the Sheriff to respond when available.
Sheriff Bob Wolfe stated, "We are going to reduce down from two detectives to only one, having patrol deputies handle more follow-up calls. I intend to keep one member on the POINT Team in order to maintain our multi-agency drug county wide 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. Sheriff Bob Wolfe stated, "I will not send any deputy to a high-priority call, unless they have back-up for officer safety reasons. I am concerned this will likely result in slowed or delayed response times while the first deputy awaits back-up. 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 (8) 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.