City to explore port patrols

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer June 26, 2013 07:35 am

The Brookings City Council on Monday decided to explore the possibility of providing the Port of Brookings Harbor with police patrols to help battle increasing crime there.

The effort will begin with a feasibility study to determine whether it should done through an intergovernmental agreement — or annexation.

Port Director Ted Fitzgerald said public drunkenness and disorderly conduct are just some of the issues that have cropped up at the port in the past two months, possibly as a result of the voter’s rejecting a property tax increase that would have beefed up sheriff’s patrols in unincorporated parts of the county.

“Most of the issues have been disorderly conduct and drunkenness in public, mainly with transient and homeless people on the east side of the basin,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said, “By the beach, at night, things get pretty rowdy out there. A lot of wildness and refusal to do as directed, or lighting fires.”

Telling these people to leave has not been successful.

“In my interchanges with people, when the statement is made, ‘We’ll be forced to call the sheriff,’ the average response is, ‘Good luck with that,’” Fitzgerald said. 

“There’s a variety of things we’ve been doing to minimize this,” he said of problems on the port property. “But it’s difficult or impossible to ask any law enforcement agency to do regular patrols. It’s too big, too spread out.”

Call in the cops

Sheriff John Bishop, whose jurisdiction encompasses the entire port district from the California border to Pistol River, said he and Fitzgerald plan to meet and discuss the sheriff’s office involvement.

“A lot of the areas we have issues with aren’t on port property,” Bishop said. “The Best Western — that’s not port property. Sebastian’s — that’s not port property. Blue Water Cafe, Harbor Sanitation District — not port property. The beach — the sand — that belongs to the state.”

And it’s not as easy as merely patrolling the port, Bishop said.

“”It’s not going to be, ‘Here’s this amount of money; we’ll give you this amount of patrol,’” he added. “There’s going to be a whole lot of other things that have to be addressed.”

Fitzgerald agreed.

He said the area to be patrolled  would likely only encompass the port property in Harbor and not the entire district.

The port’s charter permits the board to create such a district; some ports are even operated by cities or counties in the state.

Fitzgerald said the situation at the port has “never been OK,” even though some believe the failure of a tax levy in May to increase sheriff’s patrols is to blame for crime in unincorporated areas.

The sheriff’s office has four officers to patrol the 1,627 square miles that make up Curry County. The Brookings Police Department has nine patrol officers to cover 3.8 square miles.

“It’s always just a situation we’ve had to work with,” Fitzgerald said. “The port is a great big place. The sheriff could never have enough people to cover it completely. It takes a lot of time to maintain any kind of a presence. And it’s out of our realm of expertise. None of our people are trained law enforcement professionals or EMTs or anything.”

“Proactive law enforcement is not what the sheriff can offer,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog. “He’s reactive, and has been for years. He gets a call and reacts.”

Costs are another unknown, Fitzgerald said, adding that it will be a challenge for the port, which is just beginning to creep its way into solid financial footing.

“We’d have to pay for it; maybe adjusting rates and figuring out where the money’s coming from,” he said. “That’s a problem.”

“I don’t blame the port for looking at it,” Bishop said. “There’s just a little bit more to this than patrolling the port area. But we have always worked well with the Brookings police; they back us up now. This isn’t a big stretch for them.”

Annexation?

The city also voted to investigate the feasibility of annexing the port area, although Fitzgerald said he’s not sure how that would work.

If the port were to annex that portion of its property into the city, commercial tenants along the boardwalk would pay city taxes, but the port itself would be exempt, as it is a governmental agency. He has not yet heard from any tenants about the proposal.

“I’m sure I will,” he said.

And questions about taxation — city and unincorporated area residents all pay taxes to the port district and the Sheriff’s Office — will be addressed as the issue is studied.

Fitzgerald said he imagines it will take a month or two to evaluate all the issues and ramifications of an IGA or annexation.

“If we were to annex, they (city of Brookings) would be required to provide the (patrol) services,” Fitzgerald said. “Adding a layer of bureaucracy to the management of our port … I don’t see how that would be helpful. But I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.”

“The policing and annexation are two separate issues,” Hedenskog stated. “But it could pave the way for future law enforcement contracts, if needed.”

In the meantime, Fitzgerald has already installed gates at the RV park to deter late-night traffic in the area, and is considering fencing areas in the industrial areas and some of the gates to the boats.

“We’re already experiencing a lot better control there,” Fitzgerald said of those efforts. “We’ve taken a good step in that direction.”

But the Fourth of July is eight days away — and the forecast is for sunny skies.

“I don’t know what that bodes for the serious partiers,” Fitzgerald said. “I guess we’ll find out.”