Law enforcement calls originating in Harbor requesting help from Brookings and Oregon State police might be partly why Gov. Kate Brown sent a letter to county commissioners earlier this month urging them to use road funds to pay for adequate safety services in the county.
Brookings City Manager noted this week that part of the letter reads, “the Oregon State Police cannot be a substitute for local law enforcement.”
“It is likely that this note is included in the letter because the frequency of OSP responding to calls for service in the unincorporated area is taxing their resources,” Milliman said. “The city is also being impacted by the lack of adequate sheriff staffing in the unincorporated area.”
The letter was posted on the county’s website, but removed upon the request of Commissioners Tom Huxley and Sue Gold.
Sheriff John Ward recently hired a new deputy and adjusted patrol levels to increase coverage in unincorporated Curry County. That deputy will work 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. four days a week, boosting overall coverage to 16 hours a day. Calls received in the off hours will be answered by administration — Ward and the forest and marine deputies, he said.
Another deputy is currently in the academy and scheduled to graduate in June. At that point, he will have another eight weeks of training in the field before he can respond to calls on his own.
The increased coverage will help, Ward noted, but emergencies happen at all hours of the day and night.
Last week, Milliman said, the city received a report of someone trying to break into a vacant building in Harbor. Dispatchers here referred the call to the sheriff’s department and a deputy was able to respond after the second call for assistance.
The suspect was initially identified as a transient known by local law enforcement to be violent, Milliman said, so the deputy requested help from a Brookings officer and a police dog to search the area. The suspect was found, but was resisting arrest.
A second officer had to respond, and a third — and last one on duty — was posted on Bridge Street in case more assistance was needed. Ultimately, the deputy and two police officers placed the suspect into custody.
A second incident a few weeks ago involved the report of a woman and child in the South Coast Center who appeared disheveled, disoriented and inappropriately dressed for the cold weather.
“No sheriff’s deputies were available,” Milliman said.
The woman and child walked to the Chevron station and more 911 calls were posted.
“Sgt. Kelby McCrae, out of concern that the child was be in danger, authorized Brookings Police officers to respond,” Milliman said. Eventually OSP, a sheriff’s deputy and Child Protective Services were involved. The woman eventually became combative and was arrested.
Brookings officers were on the scene for more than 30 minutes.
Support the sheriff
The county recently hired Clark Schroeder as its new, permanent county administrator, is about to embark upon budget discussions for the next fiscal year and has an election coming up May 15 to fill Commissioner Tom Huxley’s seat. Huxley, who ran on a platform of cutting the “fat” out of county services, has fought Ward over staffing.
Interim County Administrator John Hitt, too, hopes to work with Schroeder through the budget process. He has already addressed the commissioners, saying he believes certain departments, notably the sheriff’s office, have been neglected long enough and need more money to function.
Milliman hopes any changes will help the city.
“These are only two examples of demands placed upon city resources to address public safety needs in the unincorporated area,” Milliman said. “The city of Brookings is also not responsible for providing public safety services in Harbor. Our residents need to know about this, and need to take action to support the allocation of adequate county resources to minimize these mutual aid responses by OSP and Brookings police.”
He also acknowledged, however that the governor’s letter to the commissioners — in which she urges them to consider using road reserve funds to hire more deputies — would only be a stop-gap approach to addressing the financial problem for the long run.
“Those of us who work in providing these services every day are concerned that current conditions could result in a tragedy,” Milliman said.