After massive budget cuts in Josephine County, Ore. led to two-thirds of the sheriff’s department being laid off, the county saw a huge surge in burglaries, vehicle thefts and other property crimes.
Now, Southern Oregon residents are taking it upon themselves to patrol the areas that officers cannot.
Federal land makes up 70% of Josephine County; revenue from timber sales on this land kept the county’s taxes low and county government functioning. However, as logging declined dramatically and payments stopped coming in, the county’s sheriff’s department’s budget was cut by more than half.
As NPR explains, after the cuts, a single deputy was left to patrol the entire county.
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The Sheriff’s Office issued a press release announcing that their deputies would respond only to “life-threatening situations.”
Now, citizen safety groups have formed throughout at least four communities in the county.
Alan Cress, a volunteer on a Citizens Against Crime patrol, explained that the patrol group isn’t trying to take the place of law enforcement.
“In fact, we have a great deal of respect for what law enforcement does,” Cress said. Instead, he stressed that in light of the extremely limited resources currently available to the sheriff’s department, these volunteers are “just trying to keep a presence out there.”
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In Merlin, Ore., members of the North Valley Community Watch Responder Team are even receiving academy-style training from Ken Selig, a 33-year veteran of the sheriff’s department who retired when he was facing the prospect of being laid off.
“I used the same lesson plans, the same things that [I used] when I taught at the academy,” Selig explained.
As Jeff Bailey, a member of the North Valley Community Watch Responder Team, 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.”
Although County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson has said that he supports neighborhood watches, a recent community meeting also left him feeling concerned and unsettled. Some citizens feel that these community watches have so effectively replaced law enforcement, that they now oppose the idea of paying for officials to resume enforcement of their county.
“Well, that really concerns me. That does concern me,” Gilbertson said.