GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The lack of federal timber money is at the center of several budgeting problems in Southern Oregon. Local law enforcement is making its voice heard in the debate over the region’s failing timber industry.
Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says federal oversight of timber lands is to blame for the county’s underfunded law enforcement system. With no timber revenue coming their way, he says he’s now calling on residents to lend a hand.
Gilbertson says he’s been spending the past two years trying to create a centralized neighborhood watch system. Last year the sheriff’s department had to lay of 65% of its workforce, and has been relying on overcrowded jails.
He says residents have a responsibility to exercise their right to protect themselves and their land, but that can be disastrous if they don’t know how to do it by the book. Gilbertson says he envisions a system of neighborhood watch groups that are in close communication, helping to track criminal activity.
“They are the eyes and ears out there for us. They can collect the evidence, they know who’s doing these things. And it helps us, if at some point we have enough information we can make an arrest,” said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson
Gilbertson says as crime gets worse, more people will volunteer. Right now there are over 30 neighborhood watch groups, all of which are fragmented. Gilbertson says after two years of trying to form a central neighborhood watch, he still isn’t where he wants to be. He says there’s no deadline, they’re just taking it one step at a time.