When his officers arrest a drunk driver, Seaside Police Chief Ken Almberg said it's almost not worth it for them to make the trip to Astoria to put the suspect in jail.

"We bring them up to the county jail, and they book them, and they're out the door before the officer is done with his paperwork," he said.

That means officers sometimes spend more time at the jail than the person they arrest, and Almberg said it's beginning to wear thin.

Following the Nov. 5 election in which voters soundly rejected a bond for a new jail by almost a 20 percent margin and a bleak state budget looming on the horizon that could have dire consequences for local services, Clatsop County law enforcement say they'll still be out there - even if their jobs will just be that much tougher.

"It's frustrating, but it's nothing new. They're experiencing that all over the state," he said, adding Multnomah County releases the most prisoners in Oregon.

Many other issues also face Clatsop County's law enforcement:

• Possible cuts to the Oregon State Police budget will reduce their number of troopers by almost half, severely cutting the number available to assist other agencies.

• The state court system, also stymied by a tight budget, may not be able to prosecute certain cases.

• The Seaside Police Department is considering creating its own correctional facility.

But while there may be tough questions ahead, those in law enforcement say they won't let up on their efforts to ensure the safety of the communities they patrol.

A jail in Seaside?

There won't be any resolution to the countywide jail crisis for at least two years, but in the south county Almberg said he may be able to provide a local correctional resource to ease the burden on the county jail in Astoria.

Seaside has a holding facility where police can keep a suspect in custody for 36 hours or for a weekend at the most. Almberg said with some renovations it could be turned into a full-fledged "correctional" facility in which criminals could perhaps spend a year-long sentence. He said this could give judges another option when sentencing people in Clatsop County.

"Seaside may be able to do something to alleviate the problem that exists in the area," he said.

To make the changes, Almberg said he would have to have wooden beams replaced with steel to meet state codes for correctional facilities. He said this would cost about $100,000 and could be paid for by a bond or local option tax levy.

"It may be something the voters locally here would vote to do because we could take a load off the county jail," he said.

Courting trouble

Even if the jail is built, budget cuts at the state level may mean less people will be sentenced to use it.

The state-run Circuit Court system may have to operate on a four-day week in the spring and may not prosecute cases for minor offenses such as restraining order violations and shoplifting. District Attorney Josh Marquis has said the paperwork will still be filed for those cases, even if they may not be resolved until well into 2003.

That isn't much of a concern for law agencies that work with municipal court systems, such as Seaside or Astoria. But it is one more example of how the justice system and law enforcement agencies are struggling to meet the demands put on them with less resources.

Deep cuts for OSP

Nowhere is the impact of dwindling dollars more evident than with the local OSP office.

The commander, Lt. Duane Stanton, said he's already supervising nine patrol officers when he should have 17. With expected budget cuts, that number could drop to five. On top of that, Stanton said he could lose two of his three detectives - reducing the number of the county drug force to two - to get two patrol positions back.

While that would bring his number of patrol officers up to seven, it would leave him with one detective.

"It's completely inadequate," he said.

To illustrate his point, Stanton said there were 12 patrol troopers in 2000, but budget cuts reduced that number to eight in 2001. In light of that decrease in troopers, DUII arrests dropped from 203 to 145.

"There was 30 percent fewer troopers, and 30 percent less DUII arrests," he said.

Stanton estimates that if the proposed cuts occur in January, the OSP would make 29 fewer DUII arrests, 1,185 fewer traffic citations and 115 fewer criminal arrests.

In addition, fewer troopers would be on the road patrolling and some highways would be left unmanned during certain parts of the day.

Stanton said a trooper already cited two drivers for going more than 100 mph on U.S. Highway 26 recently. He expects that problem to get worse if cuts become a reality and motorists think no one is out there to enforce the laws.

"It's a huge risk for the community, but at the same time our troopers are going to go out there and make arrests," he said.

With fewer OSP officers, Stanton said it will be harder for his office to handle requests for assistance from other departments. Often local law agencies pass on descriptions of vehicles that may be driven by a drunken driver to troopers.

Seaside's Almberg said he's concerned about the possible budget cuts.

"I don't know what's going to happen if this income tax measure doesn't pass in January," he said. "The problem is just going to be horrendous."

His department would feel the OSP cuts acutely in the spring as it looks to the state police for backup during Spring Break.

Still committed to safetyDespite concerns and unanswered questions, officers are not getting discouraged.

Chief Deputy Dan Laughman at the Clatsop County Sheriff's Department said, "nothing has changed as far as we're concerned."

He said there was nothing to worry about or get frustrated over - the department was still going to go out and make safety its No. 1 priority.

"There really is no change," he said. "We're still going to do what the taxpayers pay us to do."

If the circuit courts do not prosecute people for certain offenses, he said that doesn't mean the sheriff's department will stop arresting people for breaking those laws.

Astoria Police Chief Rob Deu Pree said his department has almost gotten used to a constant threat of cutbacks, so he said it's a matter of waiting until Oregon's special election Jan. 28 to see how the income tax measure will fare.

"As we get closer to those times, officers will get much more concerned with the people they arrest and the assistance they can get from the state police," he said. "January and the middle of the year are going to be very interesting times for the state of Oregon."

While budget cuts are one problem, the overcrowded jail is something else. Every local department said its officers are committed to doing their job, but some spokesmen said arresting the same people every night begins to wear on their patience.

"For a police officer it's demoralizing to know that the system you're working in does not take care of the people you risk life and limb to put into the system," Deu Pree said. "The people aren't getting the treatment they need."

One bad situation is when an officer arrests people who has beaten their spouse. While that person is in custody, the officer knows the spouse is safe. But when that person is released, that safety is gone.

"Now the spouse is threatened, and far too often the person goes back and assaults the spouse again," he said.

Stanton said his troopers have arrested drunk drivers twice in the same night because they've been released only to go home, drink more and climb back in their vehicles.

"The end result is a fix has to be found," he said. "Someone could go out and drive and kill someone in the same night."

But, he said, his troopers are not getting discouraged because they know even if criminas are off the streets for a short period, that's better than not arresting them at all.

"The message the troopers have is we can't control what the jail does or what the courts do," he said. "However, if we can remove someone for a DUII, for example, we get them off the road, even temporarily, and we have perhaps prevented lives from being taken."


Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.