JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. — After years of severely reduced patrol hours, the Josephine County Sheriff's Office says it will be increasing those hours at the beginning of next month.
"It's been a long time coming," said Sheriff Dave Daniel.
Starting on January 1 of 2020, the agency will have patrol deputies operating 20 hours each day instead of 12.
"It has long been the Sheriff’s Office’s goal to do so; however, lack of personnel has been the main obstacle," the Josephine County Sheriff's Office said in a statement on Monday.
"I think it's great. I think it's going to allow us to provide more service for the community," said Patrol Sargent Geiger.
A funding crisis that began in 2012 forced the agency to cut most of its staffing, reducing the number of patrol deputies from 23 to just three. That was "when all the wheels fell off," said Sheriff Daniel.
Since then, Josephine County has relied on Oregon State Police to cover "after-hours" emergency calls — although even those responses were limited to violent crimes or other major cases.
Over the past two years, the Sheriff's Office has slowly began hiring more patrol deputies again, a prospect that has been difficult "not only locally but also nationally" for law enforcement agencies.
"While this is a positive step moving forward, spreading out personnel will have an impact on current response times," the agency said. "The Sheriff’s Office believes the benefits of increased hours of coverage outweigh the negative of fewer Deputies on a particular shift."
"Certainly going to give more satisfaction to the job you do," said Geiger.
Oregon State Police will begin to shift its focus back to enforcing laws on state highways, although it has reportedly agreed to continue helping with dispatch service until July 1, 2020 while the Sheriff's Office works to hire four more dispatchers.
"Moving forward, we will continue to explore permanent funding solutions as we are not where we need to be to serve Josephine County at a level our citizens deserve," the Sheriff's Office said. "The specific hours of service schedule is not being released at this time."
Sheriff Daniel isn't done yet. He wants to bring patrols back to 24 hours. He wants a detectives division and a canine division — but all of that requires money.
"I don't want to sound greedy, but we need stabilized funding," said Sheriff Daniel.