The Lincoln County Sheriff Office has reduced patrol deputy response to non-criminal calls for service and certain lower-level criminal complaints.
Deputies began the reduction July 31, focusing primarily on responding to emergency and in-progress calls for service.
Examples of non-criminal calls that will no longer receive Lincoln County deputy response include:
- Noise complaints (including barking dogs) when there are no animal services deputies on duty
- Camping complaints
- Civil disputes
- Home or business alarms
- General welfare checks
- Drug complaints that are based on personal use amounts
- Non-criminal traffic crashes will generally not receive deputy response
Criminal complaints involving minor property crimes with no suspects will be referred to the online reporting system. Citizens can expect delays from deputies contacting them to provide a case number.
Deputies will be reprioritizing their available time for emergency response, including life and property threatening situations, according to Sheriff Curtis Landers.
The reduction in service is due to what Landers classified as an extraordinarily low number of certified/sworn deputies available to handle emergency calls
“We have been evaluating this situation for over a year and it doesn’t seem to be improving,” Landers said. “We have multiple contracts and a taxing district for law enforcement services that we need to uphold.”
In addition to the county’s regular service area, which includes all areas outside the cities of Lincoln City, Newport, and Toledo, the sheriff’s office also provides contractual enhanced law enforcement services for:
- Two deputies for the City of Waldport.
- One deputy funded by a voter-approved tax district and one paid by the Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indians for the Siletz Law Enforcement District.
- A forest deputy.
- Two marine deputies primarily funded by the Oregon Marine Board.
- A school resource deputy covering Toledo, and Waldport schools, half funded by the Lincoln County School District.
“We are very fortunate to have these contracts and we want to make sure we are fulfilling them,” Landers said. “Even if we have every position filled and trained, twelve patrol deputies are not enough to fulfill our mission to enhance public safety, reduce the fear and impact of crime, and improve quality of life.”
The number of patrol deputies funded by the Lincoln County general fund has relatively stayed the same over the last 30 years even as the county population and calls for service continued to grow, according to Landers.
“If not for the multiple contracts, our patrol staffing would not have increased over the years,” he said, adding that the limited deputies available and resources needed throughout the county creates pressure for deputies to be promptly available for the most urgent needs.
“We were spreading our resources too thin and were unable to adequately and consistently uphold our commitments,” Landers said. “Deputies assigned to contract areas will no longer be able to assist outside of their contract areas except for emergency situations.”
Landers said the cause of the sheriff’s office depleted staffing can be attributed to multiple factors.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office has 12 patrol deputy positions funded by the county’s general fund for nearly 1,000 square miles of patrol area in Lincoln County. Due to staffing turnover, which include retirements, normal attrition, deputies transferring to other areas, or leaving the law enforcement profession, combined with past hiring restrictions caused by county budget constraints, the sheriff’s office is not able to maintain staffing at adequate levels.
Currently the sheriff’s patrol division has five patrol deputies in training and three vacant positions. It takes approximately one year for a deputy to complete training and begin patrolling on solo status.
“We want our deputies to be proactive again which will help reduce crime,” Landers said “Responding to every call we receive spreads our resources very thin and makes us unable to be proactive and able to respond to in-progress emergency situations. We hope this will improve service to those most threatening situations.”
Final solutions distant
Landers said while he has repeatedly requested more funding from the county board of commissioners, he understands that the county budget has limited resources.
Voters rejected a funding request in 2018 that would have given the sheriff’s office some financial relief and strengthened service levels.
How service levels into the future should be addressed is still undecided, according to Landers.
“This reduction in services is still new,” he said. “We still need to make some adjustments. It may turn out okay. We may be able to priorities our calls and meet demands.”
But looking ahead, Landers said he hopeful his agency can hire the deputies that are funded under the current budget, which include three patrol deputies and fire jail deputies.
Landers admits, that even when his agency is fully staffed, there won’t be the number of deputies needed to meet the service call demands.
“We are going to have to consider what type of financial steps we would need to take,” he said. “What we need to do first is get to the staffing levels that we are funded for, and then reevaluate where we are at.”
With salary and benefits, a deputy position cost an estimated $80,000 annually, according to Landers.
“We know we still will need more people even if we are fully staffed,” he said. “The main challenges will be funding as well hiring. We really need to give the service reduction plan a chance and let the dust settle. It is important to ensure to the public that we are still available to respond to their emergency calls. That’s why we are doing this.”
The sheriff’s office operates with 29 deputies and contracted staff, the sheriff, a lieutenant, patrol commanders, and three sergeants.
Follow this developing story at thenewsguard.com and in the printed version of The News Guard.