Armed Volunteers Bolster Law Enforcement in Oregon County

By:  Warren Mass
Armed Volunteers Bolster Law Enforcement in Oregon County

Volunteers from Citizens Against Crime are patrolling the roads of Josephine County, Oregon, after budget cuts forced the sheriff’s department to lay off two-thirds of its personnel.

The Sheriff’s Office, which can now afford only a single deputy to patrol the entire 1,642-square-mile county, issued a press release announcing that their deputies would respond only to “life-threatening situations.”

Citizens Against Crime volunteer Alan Cress was quoted by NPR: “We’re not trying to take the place of law enforcement. In fact, we have a great deal of respect for what law enforcement does. We recognize the limited resources they have, and we’re just trying to keep a presence out there.”

A report from Jefferson Public Radio (JPR, an NPR affiliate at Southern Oregon University) interviewed Ken Selig, a 33-year veteran of the sheriff's department who recently retired when budget cuts forced his lay off. Selig now trains volunteers for the North Valley Community Watch Responder Team in Merlin, an unincorporated community of about 3,000 people. Selig says, “I used the same lesson plans, the same things that [I used] when I taught at the academy.”

Another member of the North Valley Team, Jeff Bailey, said, community watches are “solving the problem, No. 1, and [they are] also kind of sending a message that people are watching and people are willing to do something about crime in the area.”

JPR repeated County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson's concern about the situation. He says that while he supports neighborhood watches, what he heard at a recent community meeting left him feeling unsettled. Some citizens believe that the community watches have so effectively replaced law enforcement that they now oppose paying for officials to resume regular law enforcement.

“Well, that really concerns me. That does concern me,” Gilbertson told JPR.

The Josephine County Sheriff’s Department budgets for fiscal years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 were a little over $11.4 million. The budgets for fiscal years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 were reduced to between $5.25 and $5.5 million.

As for why Josephine County should be facing such severe budgetary problems that it cannot pay for the most basic and essential of all government service — protection of life and property — the answer lies in the federal government’s virtual war on the logging industry. Logging, lumber, and wood products were once the backbone of Josephine County’s economy, as it was in much of Oregon. As one example of the decline, a chart posted on the website of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis showed the decline in “Oregon Wood Products Employment (1947-2013).” Jobs in the industry fell from about 75,000 in 1947 to less than 30,000 in 2013.

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