Citizens willing to help fight crime

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer May 31, 2013 11:25 pm

Tom Cutting doesn’t need to be told crime is on the rise since sheriff’s deputy jobs have been slashed and the uncertainty of the results of the failed public safety levy have yet to be hashed out.

Despite what many have called “scare tactics” to get voters to approve a public safety levy, he said he was not surprised it failed. He’s seen sheriff’s deputies leave for new jobs in Tillamook, Grants Pass and Brookings — where pay is higher and jobs are more secure.

“Here we are,” said Cutting, owner of Harbor-based IPH Security Systems and a former police officer from Toronto, Canada. 

“It became evident about 2007 that this was coming. That’s the advantage of being an outsider; a lot of people couldn’t see it — ‘Oh, they’re crying wolf; they’ve been crying wolf for years.’ I’ve seen it coming.”

Cutting also volunteers with Sheriff John Bishop’s reserve forces and, because of his experience in law enforcement, is allowed to monitor and — if needed — communicate using the county’s radio bandwidth frequency to respond to calls.

“We got into a stolen vehicle situation in Harbor years ago, and a sergeant we were working with said, ‘You need to be on our radio frequency; we could’ve caught this guy,’” Cutting said. He told the sergeant to talk with Bishop, who agreed to the idea.

Cutting’s not the only one willing to help combat crime since Bishop is so short-staffed.

Bob Pieper of Brookings, who owns Hearth & Home, said he knows people willing to patrol unincorporated areas of the county to ensure civil order. That’s what happened in Cave Junction when Josephine County voters defeated a tax levy last year that would have funded public safety.

“I’ll take Harbor,” Pieper said. “I know of five other guys who are willing to do this. I’m serious.”

Bishop said it’s not that easy.

For starters, state law prohibits it.

“This isn’t just driving around and looking at things,” Bishop said. “If they want to do that, they can do that now. But they can’t take any enforcement action, or they’d open themselves up to liability. And do you truly want citizens doing patrol when we should have professional law enforcement? The notion that volunteers can do all this is totally ridiculous.”

Bishop has a cadre of eight reserves who go through training and help in the jail, dispatch or on patrol depending on their time schedules and interests. They’re mostly utilized in the transport of prisoners. And regardless, they must be accompanied by a deputy while volunteering.

“Liability with a reserve is just as much, if not a little bit more, than a regular (deputy),” Bishop said. “And they’re supplanting the force, not replacing it. Sometimes it works really well. It gives us more boots on the ground. It’s not a lot, but it helps.”

The city of Brookings also has about 10 citizens in a supplemental patrol division, said Lt. Donny Dotson. They carry weapons and drive vehicles with lights and sirens.

“There certainly is a liability,” Dotson said. “That’s why there’s a lengthy process to ‘Hey, I want to be a volunteer’ to where they’re wearing a uniform and driving a car.”

The city also has its “VIP” reserve force of about 10 that conducts less confrontational duties such as checking on homes when people are on vacation and helping with large events.

It’s come in more than handy for potential crime victims.

Cutting was there to back up a sheriff’s officer after a burglary, giving the officer time to pursue a suspect. That person was let go, but shortly after, another 911 call resulted in an arrest of someone allegedly breaking into a house.

“The guy ran,” Cutting said. “And we caught him. Ends up he lived there and locked himself out. Why he ran? Well, he had a bunch of dope in his pocket.”

Cutting was the officer who extinguished the arson fire recently behind Barron’s Furniture Warehouse on Benham Lane. His firm has responded to fights, disturbances, burglaries, car thefts and trespassing incidents. He can’t respond to incidents to properties that have no contract with him, as it opens up a slew of liability issues.

“Tom works well; he’s our eyes and ears,” Bishop said. “But even when he finds something criminal, he’s calling in for us to get there.”

Residents in the far reaches of Curry County know all too well the challenges law enforcement faces in responding to an emergency. Social media comments have been noting for months the time it takes for a sheriff’s deputy to get to Harbor — if anyone can arrive at all.

“That’s where we come in,” Cutting said. “Because we’ve got a patroller on the street, we can just about guarantee a response within five minutes anywhere in Harbor.”

The Sheriff’s Office can’t contract with IPH to provide law enforcement in far-flung areas of the county, he said.

“But this is an alternative,” Cutting said. “You can’t replace the Sheriff’s Office with a private security agency; to think that would be visions of grandeur. But we can provide something — some reprieve and peace of mind.”

He said he’s seen crime increase in the nine years he’s lived here — and anticipates it to ratchet up since the levy failed.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Cutting said. “We’re nowhere near Josephine County, but we’re going to get there real quick once the crime element figures that out.”

He has nothing but high praise for local law enforcement and the district attorney, noting that they more often than not catch and prosecute.

“Those deputies on patrol are looking around, gathering information, seeing what’s going on,” Cutting said. “We no longer have those deputies out there at night. John (Bishop) has to phone someone at home, at 10:30 at night or 3 a.m., they have to get into uniform — that’s 20 minutes. You can have some serious physical injury in 20 minutes.

Not even 24 hours after the polls closed, he felt a shift in the general mood of the community, Cutting said.

“I see a lot of disbelief,” he said. “We’re a society that thinks, ‘It’ll never happen to me.’ A lot of people out there are scared, and I hope they do something to protect themselves. If the community can draw together instead of pulling apart, I think we’ll be OK.”