On Jan. 28, Oregon voters will again go to the polls to determine whether or not they intend to increase income tax rates to benefit many state agencies.
Among those closely watching that election will be members of the Oregon State Police who are facing major cutbacks if the measure does not pass.
Lt. Reg Madsen of La Grande states that 145 sworn in officers will be layed off statewide if the measure fails to gain voter approval. He adds that many more clerical and non sworn in employees will be laid off as well.
In October, 131 officers were given their walking papers only to have the order rescinded when the legislature established the Jan. 28 election.
All OSP cuts will be determined by a reverse order of tenure, meaning that the officers with the least seniority would lose their positions first.
The effects will be dramatic if the one-measure election fails to pass. Many areas in northeast Oregon, if not all of them, would no longer have 24-hour OSP patrol coverage.
"The Oregon State Police as we currently know it in Umatilla and Morrow counties will no longer exist," says Lt. Darin Helman who oversees state police efforts in those two counties.
If the measure fails, said Helman, Morrow County will no longer have officers assigned specifically to the county. At present there are two officers in Heppner, but both - one patrol officer and one game officer - would lose their positions. Helman suggests that coverage would then have to come out of their Hermiston headquarters.
Wallowa County now has three game officers, two patrol troopers and Sgt. Randy Palmer. If the measure fails only Palmer and game trooper Seth Cooney would retain their positions. A similar situation would exist in John Day where there are younger officers assigned to the post.
A process Helman calls "re-balancing our strength" has yet to be addressed officially by the OSP headquarters in Salem. It is assumed that the laying off of less experienced troopers will create some coverage imbalances in statewide coverage. Some experienced officers may to reassigned to other areas. One example might be Sgt. Palmer in Wallowa County who might be relocated rather than oversee the efforts of one trooper.
The city of Milton-Freewater now has two troopers assigned to it. One of those two would lose his position. To make matters worse the officer who would lose his post is the only bilingual officer in northern Umatilla County and a certified drug recognition expert.
Hermiston would lose four officers, but may have officers transferred from other areas to take up some of the slack.
Pendleton has 11 patrol officers on staff and would lose three.
Helman says, "We ( in Umatilla and Morrow counties) are getting hit pretty bad, but there are other areas getting hit worse."
Madsen explains that in the early 1980s there were 655 Oregon State Police officers employed. At that time the OSP was funded through highway trust funds, or ODOT. Since the department's funding source transferred to the general fund, a fund with more competition for the dollar, the number of officers has been steadily declining. At present, said Madsen, there are 380 sworn in officers employed in the state, a number that will drop to 235 if the measure fails. This is compared to 700 officers employed in the state of Washington.
Madsen points out that there has been a tremendous increase in population since the early 1980s and an estimated 33 percent increase in licensed drivers.
Helman says that the No. 1 priority statewide for the department will be highway safety. He adds that this may come at the expense of other areas of police coverage. He says that detectives and drug enforcement personnel may be reassigned to highway coverage.
One possible casualty of the proposed cuts could be the Blue Mt. Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT) which serves Umatilla and Morrow counties. Helman assumes that he would have to pull his two members off of the team for highway patrol. Whether or not that would dissolve the small BENT team he does not know. But he does know that county and city police agencies have deployment problems as well.
Speaking to the possibility of Measure No. 28 failing Madsen said, "It will be difficult to provide the level of services people expect from us."