Harney exceeds Wallowa in per capita police coverage

OSP Game Trooper Brad Duncan is one of six officers who works out of the Enterprise office. Photo by Rocky Wilson

County residents have every right to expect quick police response times to emergencies because the ratio of certified police officers to Wallowa County citizens is one of the highest in the state.

Although the number of CPOs in Wallowa County is higher per capita than the state average, it is not the highest in eastern Oregon.

Harney County, with its county seat of Burns, has 23 certified police officers in the field with a population of 7,300 persons. This computes to one certified police officer for every 317 residents. The corresponding figures for Wallowa County are 17 certified police officers for a population of 7,250 persons, or one police officer for every 426 citizens.

The state average, based on an Oregon Office of Police Standards quote of 5,287 certified police officers in Oregon and a July 1, 2003 estimated state population of 3,541,500 people, is 670 residents for every certified police officer.

Wallowa County Sheriff Fred Steen says that police numbers in the county are adequate during the off-tourism time of year, but feels that his troops "are stretched a little thin" during the four and a half to five months from May through the end of hunting season. He said the number of calls to his office go up dramatically in the summer months when there are a lot more people in the county.

At present Wallowa County has 11 prisoners lodged in the Umatilla County jail, above the eight beds for which the two counties have contracted. Steen said Umatilla County, to date, has not made additional charges against his office because of the times when Wallowa County has fewer than eight prisoners in the facility. If the census stays up more charges could be forthcoming.

Harney County is, geographically, the largest county in the state and is thought by Harney County Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Connie Brumback to be the sixth largest county in the United States. Six of the 23 CPOs in Harney County are tribal police from the Burns Paiute Reservation.

Grant County boasts 7,650 residents and 14 CPOs. This comes to 546 residents for every CPO. That figure would go down dramatically if the nine employees at the county's jail facility were counted into the mix.

Wallowa County's per capita figure could be lower if one school resource officer, one marine/corrections deputy and two additional seasonal marine deputies were counted, down to one CPO for every 345 residents.

The Wallowa County Sheriff's Office has seven sworn deputies, including Steen, and provides coverage all over Wallowa County. The City of Joseph contracts with the WCSO for two three-quarter time deputies, while neither the incorporated cities of Wallowa nor Lostine contract police service from the county. "Wallowa gets quite a bit of coverage just from the nature of the personnel that live there," Steen said. He noted that at least three deputies and a reserve live in Wallowa.

The Enterprise office of the Oregon State Police employs six officers: three game troopers assigned to fish and wildlife cases, two traffic patrol troopers and Sgt. Randy Palmer. Like all CPOs, they have the authority to write tickets anywhere in Oregon. Game Trooper Brad Duncan said that he can get assigned to southeastern Oregon during antelope season or asked to float the Owyhee River. Traffic Trooper Seth Cooney has been assigned this week to cover the Oregon State Fair in Salem.

Enterprise is the only Wallowa County city with its own police force. City officer Donnie Rynearson said the city has four full-time officers, including Police Chief Wes Kilgore, and three reserves. Two of the reserves are trained to work alone in relief of any of the four regular officers.

Rynearson would like to offer 24-hour police coverage in Enterprise, "but with a four-person department 24-hour coverage is not feasible."

He said that burglaries in the last year at Mountain Mart, Liquid Gas and the Enterprise Liquor Store all took place in the late hours when officers were off duty.

A dispatcher and 9-1-1 coverage are available around the clock at the sheriff's office.

Cooney said there were nine OSP officers stationed in Enterprise in 2000.

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