Council studies policing of port

Written by Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer August 06, 2013 09:53 pm

Brookings city councilors are evaluating a variety of options in its consideration of extending police coverage to Port of Brookings Harbor property along Lower Harbor Road in Harbor.

City and port officials have been discussing the issue in light of increasing reports of public drunkenness, theft and general trouble-making on port property, in the RV park and along Sporthaven Beach.

“The problem with contracting with cities, the port’s in unincorporated Curry County,” said Sheriff John Bishop. “We’re doing it cheaper than anyone else.”

Bishop — and others — admit they are confused how it would work.

City officials took data from 911 reports and determined it would cost the port about $60,000 a year to provide patrol services in the port area from the RV park to the Harbor Sanitation District building. Port property includes many retail shops, but not all the hotels that line the road.

And Bishop’s patrol deputies are stretched thin already due to financial problems at the county level; most recently he’s had to send deputies to support work being done at the county’s border where wildfires are burning.

If the port and city proceed with the talks, either could back out of the arrangement, a preliminary agreement indicates.

But there are numerous unanswered questions, the city council noted at a work session Monday evening.

Among them is the data used to determine the number of calls to which law enforcement is summoned there, and if they are underestimated because of the shortage of sheriff’s deputies.

Many times a 911 dispatcher must tell a caller there will not be a response because no one is on duty. If it is a life-or-death situation, Brookings Police will respond, however.

Other unknowns include how the port would pay for such service, if a tax could be implemented on those in the surrounding area of if the entire port district should be taxed for coverage.

The port district covers almost a third of the county, from Pistol River east to the county line, then south to California and north along the coastline.

“That geographic area is huge,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “And in a great portion of that geographic area, no one lives there.”

Another option could be to have the Brookings Police Department patrol the city and its urban growth boundary, which includes areas south into Harbor.

If that were to be the chosen option, Milliman said, questions arise about annexation — and taxes to pay for that coverage.

“The police department provides a high level of quality service,” he said. “And it’s expensive. It’s the most expensive, high-priority service we provide. More than half the city taxes dollars go to provide that service. If the residents of the unincorporated area want the same level of service, should they be paying the same? That rate could be substantial.”

Mayor Ron Hedenskog noted that past city councils have purposely beefed up the police department here in anticipation of a county financial failure. And voters showed at the polls in May that they do not favor additional patrols.

“We saw that clear as a bell,” Hedenskog said.

Councilor Kelly McClain said he didn’t want the police force to be diluted by extending service beyond city boundaries. It was noted, too, that deterring crime in Harbor reduces crime in Brookings.

Bishop said there is already a sheriff’s presence south of the Chetco Bridge, as one deputy is required by state law to serve paperwork and other civil duties and a marine deputy works closely with the port.

Additionally, the sheriff is relocating its substation from Brookings-Harbor Shopping Center to an office across from the port offices. Bishop hopes to have that operating within 60 days — and believes an increased presence there will help deter crime.

“We have to be down there anyway because we have to do all these other things,” he said. “Why not give the money to the Sheriff’s Office for deputies? It (currently) doesn’t cost the port any money.

“We take care of the problem,” he added. “It is still an unincorporated area, which means the Sheriff’s Office has to respond to all the incidents in that area.”