GOLD BEACH Curry County Commissioner Bill Roberts announced Monday that he will form a fact-finding committee to investigate why the sheriffs department doesnt have enough deputies to respond to calls.

Roberts said hes heard on the radio lately that, because of budget shortfalls, deputies wont respond to calls.

I have no idea what theyre talking about, he said.

Roberts said he believes the problem is with scheduling in the sheriffs office. He said there are 14 people in the patrol division, and many of them dont work the street.

He said the sheriff, captain, lieutenant and sergeant dont work the street. He said one deputy is assigned to work with the city, and another is out on medical leave.

They dont have any deputies left to work the street, said Roberts.

He said the committee will look at the situation and determine if more deputies are needed to respond, and how many it would take.

He said if more deputies are really needed, maybe something could be put on the November ballot.

Roberts said the commissioners office will accept applications for the committee until Tuesday and will make the appointments on June 19.

Roberts said the committee will be made up of four or five lay citizens. He said elected officials wouldnt be on it because people dont trust them anymore.

Sheriff Kent Owens heard about Roberts statements in the morning and responded to The Pilot later that afternoon.

He said, As elected officials, Im disappointed the county commissioners would propose forming a committee to study the sheriffs office without talking with the sheriff. He said it was typical of the way Roberts has always operated.

Owens said he has an open-door policy, but, Roberts has never darkened my door. He has never understood this office, and has never tried.

I was elected by the public, said Owens, I have 12 years experience in law enforcement in Curry County. I know how this department should be organized.

He said he wont let any committee control his department. The citizens have watched Roberts try to control this department for years, he said.

Owens listed several statutes and legal decisions to show that the sheriff is the sole authority on the organization and management of the sheriffs office.

The commissioners do have authority over the funding and staffing levels of the sheriffs office.

An attorney generals opinion from 1970 said the sheriff is not a mere administrative officer subordinate to the county governing board.

It said the sheriffs authority is derived from state law and not delegated by the county.

A citizens review committee is not the answer, said Owens, We already know we need more law enforcement.

He said his law levy to put more deputies on the road passed in the south county and went down by only 400 votes overall. He said it would have passed if the commissioners had supported it.

Owens said the commissioners may be seeing a change in the political climate and believe they need to be seen supporting more law enforcement to win re-election.

He said after not supporting his levy, they cant come right out and propose a new one, so they will form a committee to tell them the people want it.

Owens said the county does need to pass a levy if it wants full law enforcement coverage. He said he would support a new levy after the election is over.

Owens also explained the structure of his department, as he did to the commissioners during the law levy election, and also during the recent budget hearings.

He said management for both the criminal and corrections divisions consists of the sheriff, a captain, and a lieutenant. He said all do respond to calls when necessary.

Of the 14 deputies Roberts spoke of, Owens said six are patrol deputies.

The seventh, a sergeant, supervises the night shift and also patrols. The eighth is the departments only criminal detective, and the ninth is assigned to narcotics.

He said deputies 10 through 13 consist of two on marine patrol, one on forest patrol, and one school resource officer. All are subsidized by grants or state or private funds.

The 14th deputy is in charge of all civil duties for the department.

The corrections division is staffed at the minimum level required by the state.