Josephine County suspects roam free

GRANTS PASS — Rob Pratt didn't sleep well Monday night.

"I woke up every couple of hours," the burglary victim said. "Not a very restful night."

The felon charged with stealing a rifle earlier in the day from Pratt's Redwood-area home had been caught, but was cited and released because of the lack of resources at the Josephine County Jail.

"It's too bad for the whole community it's come to that," Pratt said the day after the burglary.

The incident made headlines because the suspected burglar — said to be dressed in camouflage and wearing something like a scarf around his face — fled after being discovered in a neighbor's shed and ran toward Redwood Elementary School, prompting a lockdown at the school. The whole affair was even more frightening because the burglar had taken the time to load a magazine into Pratt's gun, according to Pratt.

"And a bullet in the chamber," he said.

The fact the man was not jailed, despite having a warrant out for his arrest in a drug-delivery case, is an example of what has happened to Josephine County's criminal justice system in the wake of deep budget cuts that took effect last spring and summer, when nearly 90 deputies, prosecutors, Juvenile Department workers and support staff lost their jobs.

The cuts have had widespread effects:

  • The number of inmates held at the Josephine County Jail has been cut to 99, down from 150 early last year.
  • The number of cases prosecuted by the Josephine County District Attorney's Office has fallen by half.
  • Josephine County Sheriff's Office patrols were reduced to an eight-hour shift each weekday.
  • The 30-bed shelter and detention facility at the Josephine County Juvenile Justice Center was closed.

Into the void left by cuts to sheriff's patrols have come Oregon State Police troopers and detectives, who in the second half of last year handled a monthly average of 167 incidents and investigations that typically would have been handled by county deputies. In February, OSP even shifted four troopers into Josephine County from Jackson County to handle the load.

"If they weren't here, everything would be going to hell in a handbasket," said Lt. Tyler Humphfres of Rural/Metro Fire Department at the scene of a crash last Sunday near Merlin. At the crash scene, an ambulance, firefighters and a tow truck responded — but no law enforcement officers from any agency.

More than anything, crime is soaring. For example, burglaries are up 50 percent and assaults are up 31 percent in the city, compared with the previous year. Director Joe Henner of the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety attributes the increase in reported crime to the cuts in services.

"We believe the increases in the crime categories you note are related to the fact we are unable to jail and prosecute people who are committing crimes over and over again," Henner said in an email. "When we issue citations to appear in court for committing crimes that should instead have you lodged in jail, the deterrent effect is gone and we see people re-offending."

For example, the night of March 21, Steven R. Borden, 48, no permanent address, was arrested at gunpoint inside the Salvation Army thrift store at Sixth and L streets, where a door had been broken in. However, police merely cited Borden on a burglary charge and released him.

"I was kind of shocked when they said they weren't going to take him to jail," store manager Penny Sayre said the day after the burglary. "The jail refused to take him, so he gets to wander the streets and commit burglaries and that's OK."

On April 16, after Borden failed to show up in court for arraignment, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He remains at large. A formula is used to determine who is lodged and who isn't.

Compounding the lack of jail space are deep cuts to prosecution services.

"We've cut our case filings in about half," said Josephine County District Attorney Stephen Campbell, noting that cuts have mostly affected misdemeanor cases.

Cases not prosecuted because of a lack of resources include possession of small amounts of drugs.

"We used to be pretty aggressive about filing those," Campbell said. "There is a connection and interplay between drug abuse and property crime. The sooner we can intervene on the drug abuse side, the more likely we are to see an improvement in the number of property crimes."

Also, thefts under $100 are not being prosecuted.

"We've definitely seen a rise in shoplifting as the lack of accountability has been learned in the community," Campbell said. "A lot of these stores have had to beef up security and run their own security force."

A three-year local option tax is on the May 21 ballot in Josephine County to help pay for increased justice system services. It would raise property taxes $1.48 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Sayre, the manager at the Salvation Army store, dislikes the idea of a jump in property taxes to pay for the jail and other services, even if it would help pay to hold burglars.

"If I'm a homeowner, they want me to pay higher taxes," she said. "I don't think that's right. A lot of things they're spending money on they shouldn't."

Burglary victim Pratt, who earlier this week was shopping for an alarm system and a contractor to fix his busted door, is willing to pay the price, if the tax proposal passes.

"The increase in funding is certainly not going to be a luxury," he said. "It's a necessity."

Reach Grants Pass Daily Courier reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3813 or

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