Local OSP patrols are spread thin

Oregon State Police has shifted four troopers from Jackson County's field office to provide more protection in Josephine County after the Sheriff's Office there drastically scaled back its patrols following deep budget cuts.

OSP Lt. Kelly Collins, a 27-year veteran with the force, said he temporarily assigned the four troopers to Josephine County for safety reasons.

"They are answering only life-threatening calls for service that the Sheriff's Department can't respond to, so we always make sure more than one trooper responds to those calls," Collins said.

The Grants Pass office has eight troopers permanently assigned to it, which means troopers from Central Point often must respond there for back-up purposes, Collins said.

"We were heading there regularly to provide backup, so I thought it would be best if we just assigned four troopers there," Collins said.

The Central Point headquarters has seen lean manpower in recent years. The office is allotted 24 troopers, but has not had that many stationed there for years.

The office has 16 troopers on duty, including the four in Josephine County, with two more on the way from the police academy and one transferring in from another district.

With the reassigned troopers in Josephine County, the Central Point office will be down to 15 troopers in Jackson County.

Collins said the call load in Josephine County is not overwhelming, but the types of calls the troopers encounter there are of the more dangerous variety.

"They are troopers so they can handle anything, but the types of calls are ones that involve fights and weapons," Collins said. "You always want more than one trooper to respond in those situations."

The Josephine County Sheriff's Department made headlines last year when it cut its patrols and jail staffing to the bone following the defeat of a public safety levy. The department no longer patrols the roads day and night, and the jail has been drastically reduced to 60 beds, half of which are reserved for federal prisoners.

Josephine County commissioners have authorized a vote on a three-year property tax with a rate of $1.48 per $1,000 of assessed property value to fund the criminal justice system. The proposal is expected to appear on the May 21 ballot. (Tax rate information corrected from earlier version.)

Rep. Wally Hicks, R-Grants Pass, hopes Josephine County can figure out a way to fund the Sheriff's Department.

"I am highly concerned about the situation as a whole," Hicks said.

Hicks doesn't want OSP to shift its resources from one place to another, already stretching a department with low staffing levels to the breaking point.

"When you redirect those patrols from Central Point, you leave a whole swath of Interstate 5 near the border without 24-hour patrols," Hicks said.

Jackson County Commissioner Don Skundrick said it would better serve all of Southern Oregon if Josephine County could resolve its budget mess.

"OSP are good team players, but when you take a trooper out of Jackson County, it's one less law enforcement officer we have," Skundrick said.

Medford police Chief Tim George echoed Skundrick's sentiments, saying that OSP is stretched to the limit, and has been for many years.

"This state needs to figure out a way to get dedicated funding for OSP," George said. "In cases like Josephine County, they are the safety valve. But they can only stretch so far."

Collins said the troopers are putting in a lot of overtime working the Josephine County calls.

"I intend this to be a temporary assignment," Collins said. "As soon as the Sheriff's Department can take over again, I'm going to bring the troopers back to Jackson County."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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