Sheriff will release inmates, cut patrols

September 19, 2012 10:37 am

 

Sheriff John Bishop
Sheriff John Bishop
GOLD BEACH – Curry County Sheriff John Bishop says he will begin releasing prisoners from the county jail, cut deputy patrol hours and stop responding to less severe crimes because of shortage of staff and an overcrowded jail.

“We’re not doing it all at once,” Bishop said Tuesday. “We will cut the number of inmates in the jail because of my staff and the overcrowding of the jail.”

 

Also, starting Thursday, deputies will stop responding to less severe crimes in unincorporated areas of the county. Those include calls for barking dogs, misdemeanor mischief, illegal camping, noise complaints and disputes.

Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace said residents living within Brookings city limits will not see a change in police response.

“It’s not an issue in Brookings,” Wallace said. “We are fully staffed and will still respond to most calls within a minute or two.”

Still, Wallace was unsettled by the news of Bishop’s plans.

“It’s concerning for all of us in law enforcement; it’s a matter of safety for everyone,” he said. 

The Brookings Police Depart will continue to honor an existing ‘mutual aid” agreement between city, county and state law enforcement agencies.

“If something life-threatening is happening outside the city limits, we will go out there and help,” Wallace said. “But you won’t see us respond to routine county calls.” 

He added, “We will continue to work collaboratively with the sheriff and Oregon State Police, but we are all about to enter waters that we’ve never been in.”

Bishop said he’s having a hard time getting quality applicants to apply for jobs with the Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s not hard to understand why,” he said. “Applicants know we can’t assure them they’ll have a job in a year, so why apply?”

County commissioners approved a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 by taking $350,000 from the vehicle replacement fund, $700,000 from the County Road fund and $450,000 from the county’s working capital to keep the county operational until July 1, 2013. But after that, they don’t expect to have enough in the county’s general fund to keep operating.

For the last five years, the county has experienced a sharp drop in its share of federal timber revenues due to logging cutbacks on national forests. Congress has extended those payments several times, a little less money each year, but official are not counting on another extension anytime soon.

Josephine County this summer released dozens of inmates as part of the county’s response to voter defeat of a law enforcement property tax levy in the May primary. That levy would have funded the sheriff’s office, district attorney and juvenile justice program. It would have increased the county government property tax rate by $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate now, 58 cents per $1,000, is the state’s lowest.

Curry County’s property tax to fund county government is a cent higher than Josephine’s.

“Josephine County did it all at once. They paved the road and we’re driving down it. We can definitely be there come June,” Bishop said.

“There is a ton of horror stories there going on, criminals not being prosecuted, not arrested. Bad things happening to citizens and nothing getting done. I hope we never get there,” he said.

Earlier this month, Josephine County decided to restore some jail beds there to accommodate 69 inmates, up from 30, hire a deputy and two monitoring technicians.

The action was part of a $400,000 package the county commissioners approved to bolster law enforcement for the current budget year. The money comes from what so far appears to be the final federal timber fund payment to the county. 

On Tuesday, Bishop said the jail has a capacity of 50 inmates. On Tuesday morning, the jail population was 47 or 48.

“We will probably release four to six, depending on how the matrix is. We have some people supposed to get out on Friday. We’ll release them today, others a week or two early. The ones that are not a threat to society or anything,” Bishop said.

“Some we can’t release. They may have holds from California or Texas or somewhere like that waiting for extradition. We have others waiting for psychological evaluation. We can’t let them go,” Bishop said.

He said one is a driving under the influence arrest who hasn’t been sentenced. He said about two-thirds of the inmates in the jail on Tuesday have not been sentenced.

“Some are misdemeanor probation violations we’ll probably release. We’re looking at it. We’re trying to get the number down because of the staffing issue and to help relieve stress,” Bishop said.

Judge Cynthia Beaman said in court Tuesday that she gets frustrated sending someone to jail one day and seeing them out the next.

Bishop said when the jail has 50, that includes all inmate workers.

“It’s a little complicated. We may not be at 50 but we could be full. The maximum is eight women, so we get 10 we’re full, although we may have only 20 men,” he said.

“I have either not enough employees, making them work several overtimes, or brand new employees. I’m trying to reduce the work load so they can train, can focus. We’re flat burning them out,” Bishop said.

“I also contacted Jackson County. I may borrow some of their deputies to come over on mutual aid and work some of our jail for us,” Bishop said.

“One of the unfortunate consequences of the county’s financial situation is many county employees are looking for jobs elsewhere because they don’t know how long they’ll be employed here,” District Attorney Everett Dial said Tuesday. “What’s happening in the jail is the unfortunate collateral effect of the financial instability of the county.”

Wallace said his department has been trying to help reduce the number of people jailed by citing and releasing suspects of misdemeanor crimes.

“We’ve been doing that for awhile,” Wallace said.

The current crisis is due to a combination of factors which have resulted in severe staffing shortages in the jail, Bishop said.

In a written statement released Tuesday to the media,  Bishop said:

“Recent retirements and resignations by Corrections Deputies have left holes in the 24-hour shift schedule that can no longer be handled by overtime alone. While we are in this crisis we will have to divert Patrol Deputy Positions from road patrol duties, Probation Officers from Community Corrections and reassign them into the jail.”

He said this reduction of patrol resources is going to mean fewer hours per day that a Sheriff’s Deputy is on duty and less response by the deputies. It will also mean that people on Parole will receive less supervision to make sure they are abiding by court orders. 

“Currently, on average, there is one Sheriff’s Deputy on patrol covering the 1,654 square miles of Curry County for 20 hours per day.  Soon that may be cut in half,” he wrote.

“The reason, there will be two to three fewer Patrol Deputies to put on the schedule. It is nowhere near enough manpower to protect and serve, but there it is,” Bishop wrote.

“While they are on duty, our response, which currently covers a range of priority 1 through 5 calls for service, will only be for priorities 1, 2 and 3 type calls. Priorities 4 and 5 will no longer get a Deputy’s response. Our dispatch will be happy to send you a self report form and we will make an entry into our information system so the crimes will be recorded, but there will be no action taken,” he wrote.

Bishop said Priority 4 Calls include Animal at Large, misdemeanor Criminal Mischief, Barking Dogs, Cold Dispute, Forgery, Found Property, Illegal Dumping, Illegal Fireworks, Illegal Camping, Illegal Parking, Noise Complaints, Panhandling, Suspicious Conditions, and Theft of Services.

Priority 5 Calls include such things as Abandoned Property, Abandoned Vehicle, Animal Complaint, Bad Check, Driving Complaint, Telephone Harassment, Littering, Lost Property, and Extra Patrol Request.

“I’m concerned we’re really not going to be able to keep responding. The next thing is we’ll quit responding to priority 3 calls. Then, unless it’s a felony in process, we’re going to stop responding,” he said.

Bishop said he would cut patrol hours as late and as little as possible.

“It’s such a fluid situation, I don’t have an exact date. We’re going to take it day by day, week by week,” he said. “I had two individuals in academy. One dropped out and said it wasn’t for him. I’ve got to replace him. Hiring a new one starts Monday. It takes six to eight months before they can work on their own. It all depends on the academy when we can get them in.”

Bishop said in this economy people are hurting and need good jobs, so even though there is no guaranteed future, he still gets some good applicants, but nowhere near what he would have with stable funding. 

“We have been steadily recruiting for openings in the jail for over a year, and people are leaving as fast as we can get someone hired. We are actually down farther now in the jail than we were a year ago – and that’s with the steady recruitment,” he said.

“We have interviewed and tested tons of people and have only been able to find a couple who can pass the required state test, pass the academy, and have what we’re looking for,” Bishop said. 

“Since staff is leaving at a faster rate for better paying jobs with a future, I have no choice but to pull from patrol to keep the jail staff at minimum mandated levels. This is not adequate levels, it is just minimum levels to keep the doors open and give the judges court security which we are also mandated to do,” he said.

Last week, Bishop had his detective and undersheriff providing security for a trial, with no one else available.

“With state and federal laws and contracts, we cannot use volunteers. Volunteers do have a place and we do use them but it is limited. The volunteers also have to pass the same background investigation paid staff does due to the sensitive information they would have access to,” Bishop said.

“Remember volunteers also take vacation or family comes to town, and volunteers don’t want to be tied down to a job. They are already retired and are volunteering their free time. Volunteers are a great asset, but they are not the answer certain people in this county would lead you to believe they are,” he said.  

Bishop said the recruitment problem is compounded by the long learning curve and academy training time.  

“It takes months to get a new Deputy trained enough to work on their own without a coach. So even when we do hire someone it doesn’t solve any of the manpower needs for months,” he said.

“That’s why it is so tough to get this short-handed in a job situation that requires 24/7 scheduling. We cannot continue to operate like this. When I have to cannibalize patrol, parole and probation, and administration staff for the jail it is very risky business,” Bishop said.

He said he also recently lost one of the six patrol deputies to a more secure job elsewhere, so he’s vulnerable there, too.  

“What happens when more patrol deputies decide they can’t risk staying here any longer or keep them assigned to the jail?  It may not be long before we can’t provide any patrol coverage at all, and I am very concerned about that because I see no immediate solution to this problem,” Bishop said. “It should also be noted two true viable solutions were soundly defeated and I haven’t seen or heard any other viable solutions offered.”

The sheriff said he has a great staff.

“I don’t think anyone who has left, or who is contemplating leaving, didn’t care about giving their best to the citizens of Curry County; they are leaving because they believe they can’t take care of themselves and their families here any longer,” he said. 

In his statement, Bishop said:

“So why are they leaving? The obvious answer is clear – no funding beginning next July means no job security.  But there are other reasons too, besides job security.”

He said the current staffing levels are ridiculously inadequate which then works the deputies too hard for too long a period.  

“The jail is the most dangerous, high-liability job environment we have (another reason why its tough to recruit there), and our staffing of two Deputies per shift is not enough, period. We should have a minimum of three deputies on shift with supervision for day shift and swing shift,” Bishop said.

“The court security could take full time employees just by itself due to all the hearings, trials, arraignments. Adding those essential deputies would nearly double our jail staff and I know that nobody wants to hear about needing more these days, but that’s just a fact that the public needs to be aware of,” he said.

“The last two corrections deputies who have left were great people but stated when they took the job they had no idea of the issues, conditions, and abuse they would be subjected to by the inmates of the jail, the mentally ill persons, and some of the families of the inmates,” Bishop said. 

The sheriff said he is operating on a shoestring that is unacceptable in most other communities.  

“My deputies are tired, burned out, and instead of getting them some relief I have to work them harder. They are good troops and give and give all they can, but they have their limits. More and more they are seeing that their only option is to quit and go work elsewhere,” Bishop said.  

“The other major reason people are leaving is money,” he said. “I’m tired of hearing from some individuals in this county that our Deputies are overpaid, bull! They are below scale, not only for the state, but locally. Whatever measuring stick you apply, that is applicable they are below scale, so people are looking elsewhere.”