JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. — Over a period of several years following a major funding crisis in 2012, the majority of calls for service logged by 911 dispatchers in Josephine County went without a response by deputies. The finding is one of many furnished in an independent study commissioned by the nonprofit "Securing Our Safety" and presented to County officials on Wednesday.
"This independent study of the reduction of law enforcement funding in Josephine County is a real eye opener, even for those like me that have followed this challenge closely over the years,” said Jay Meredith, president and board chair of Securing Our Safety.
But for those most intimately familiar with the issue, the report's often grim findings aren't a surprise. Josephine County Undersheriff Travis Snyder told NewsWatch 12 that his agency has known these statistics for years.
Nonetheless, Snyder said that they welcome a report on the problem coming from a group unaffiliated with the Sheriff's Office — although the City of Grants Pass did indicate in a statement that the Sheriff's Office contributed $10,000 to Securing Our Safety in October of 2018, helping to get the ball rolling on the study.
Josephine County's funding crisis
In 2012, a large source of federal funding for the County's emergency services dried up. An attempt to replace those funds via a ballot measure was promptly shot down by voters — and law enforcement in Josephine County all but fell to ruin for several years.
The Josephine County Sheriff's Office (JCSO) was forced to reduce its staff by 67 percent, cutting the number of patrol deputies from 23 to just three.
"The three remaining deputies, tasked with patrolling the 1,642 square miles of the county, spent their shifts running between emergency calls that could be up to an hour away from each other," NPC Research said in its independent report.
The agency jettisoned all of its detectives. The number of available beds at the Josephine County Jail shrunk by more than half, quickly resulting in a "cite and release" policy for many criminal offenders. All of the agency's records staff were eliminated, and the number of dispatchers was practically decimated.
While JCSO partnered with Oregon State Police (OSP) to help with response and investigation of cases across the county, both agencies together still struggled to respond to the majority of calls for service, and officers almost exclusively responded to violent crimes.
"When county residents would call 911 for help with crimes that were not part of the limited response protocol (e.g., property crimes, other crimes not in-progress), 911 dispatchers would explain that they could not dispatch any law enforcement to the scene and instruct callers to call the JCSO non-emergency line," the report found. "However, because the JCSO records department was not staffed, calls to the non-emergency line were very rarely answered and, in some cases, calls were placed on hold for hours."
Particularly in the early years after 2012, public trust in law enforcement's ability to keep them safe increasingly began to erode. NPC found that the number of concealed carry permits nearly doubled during that time, peaking in 2016. While that number has dropped somewhat over the past several years, it remains much higher than before 2012.
The report found similar negative impacts in the number of fatal crashes, in the extent of fire protection, and in emergency medical response across Josephine County since 2012.
Triage, recidivism, and the levy
Over time, the Sheriff's Office has seen a gradual recovery, with the number of deputies at pre-2012 levels and the number of available beds at the jail increasing. However, it remains without the three detectives lost during the funding crisis.
Moreover, the report found, rates of certain types of crime appear to have risen over the past several years — particularly with criminals being released and re-offending.
"Rates of crime — especially property crime — increased; rates of motor vehicle theft soared," the report found. "After the 2012 cuts, rates of recidivism doubled, especially for property and drug crimes. Among offenders arrested in 2017 in Josephine County, 43% were re-arrested within 1 year, compared to the state rate of 37%. Among offenders arrested in 2015 in Josephine County, 63% were re-arrested within 3 years, compared to the state rate of 52%."
If Josephine County has seen some signs of recovery, it's due in large part to five-year levy for the jail and juvenile detention center that voters approved in 2017. However, without any additional sources of funding, officials fear another crisis when the levy expires.
“Even with the increases made possible by the levy, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office remained under-capacitated 2 years later. In 2019, the Sheriff’s Office had roughly half of the patrol coverage, half of the dispatch capacity, one quarter of the records capacity and none of the detective capacity that it had before 2012.
"Importantly, the 2017 levy was approved for 5 years. Without another source of longer-term funding, in 2022, Josephine County could re-experience the impacts of the 2012 funding cuts,” states the report.
By the 2018-2019 budget year, Josephine County had one deputy per 2,135 people. With the exception of Coos County, that ratio is significantly lower than any of its neighbors. Every other county, including Coos, had several detectives on staff.
"In 2019, Josephine County residents paid roughly half of what residents in similar counties paid for patrol coverage. Josephine County had one patrol deputy for every 2,056 rural residents — roughly half the rate of the other counties — and coverage for half the number of hours," the NPC report found.
Securing Our Safety's Meredith said that every Josephine County resident should at least read the report's three-page summary, so that everyone is aware of the facts in order to work together for future solutions.
“We’re trying to give citizens the best we can with what we’ve got,” said Undersheriff Snyder.
The full NPC Research report may be read or downloaded below.