Below is a March 2, 2013 article by the Associated Press regarding Josephine County’s public safety issues. One would say that words cannot express my deep concerns for our county’s future and the immediate severity of the situation we all face. Although, words must express this situation, and not only my words but others as well. Even though it comes at a very unfortunate cost to our neighboring Josephine County to the east and their citizens, we are blessed to bear witness to our future if we do nothing to help ourselves. The citizens of Josephine County, another Federal Timber dependent county like ours, failed to pass their modest Law Enforcement Levy in May of 2012 and were forced to make dramatic cuts to personnel in July which is exactly what we are facing in Curry County. They have seen crime skyrocket, burglaries upwards to 50% while prosecutions down by 42%, drug cartels (and yes to those that are uninformed we do have drug cartels in Southern Oregon) have been positioning themselves into communities and are watching what happens to Curry County Law Enforcement. Former Josephine County Sheriff and currently resigning Grants Pass Detective Mike Vorberg has stated publicly, “Grants Pass is a wasteland of criminals and evil is winning here”, he goes onto say, “ It is troubling how passionately certain members of the voting majority could fight so hard against us, the ‘good guys’ “. Detective Vorberg is leaving Grants Pass where he grew up and has lived and worked as a peace officer all his life for better pay, benefits and job security in Tualatin. He continues, “The people we served shocked me….they voted no to justice, an idea as basic a necessity as shelter. They voted no to a functioning jail and prosecutors office. They effectively made the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety an engine with no car”. This last public statement is the reality of the situation we all face. If the City of Grants Pass, with all of its resources and public safety cannot function without the county’s law enforcement services than how are the Cities of Brookings, Gold Beach or Port Orford going to be able to have functioning public safety services, they will not. The reality of this serious situation is no one has come to their aid, there has been no significant federal timber payments to come close to shoring up the fiscal hole left even after drastic cuts. The state has not stepped in to help, although Josephine is fortunate to have some State Police presence (12) where we are left with 4 troopers county wide. Sheriff Bishop also just informed me that another experienced and dedicated Patrol Deputy will soon be leaving the Sheriff’s Department for a better job, but more importantly, job security, leaving our Sheriff’s Patrol at four Deputies to cover 1746 square miles. I have grave concerns for the future of our county if we do not take the steps needed and presented to you for our own Public Safety stability. I have fears of property values plummeting while homeowner’s insurance rates skyrocket, tourism; our county’s economic driver, tanks, once word of a lawless Curry County spreads, and our friends and neighbors decide to move, taking children from our already financially distressed schools. Folks, I don’t want to raise your or my taxes and you must realize we cannot cut our way out of the lack of Federal Timber revenue to make up the budget needed to fund the basic levels of Public Safety to our citizens. Your county elected officials and staff are working hard to find ways to not only cut but also to generate revenue that will fund public safety services. Your Board is working on those plans now but we need a funding bridge for them to come to fruition. We cannot afford to have Josephine County’s reality our own as our cuts will be much worse and we must understand that in order to have healthy cities and communities, we must have a healthy county and to do this we must support the Local Law Enforcement Levy in May.
David Brock Smith, Chair
Curry County Board of Commissioners
94235 Moore St., Suite 122
Gold Beach, OR 97444
View full sizeThe Josephine County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes unit was dismantled last year after all of the employees there, including several detectives, were laid off. It was part of the county's response to voter defeat of a law enforcement property tax levy. Now crime is up and prosecutions are down in the county.Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian
Crime is up and prosecutions are down in Josephine County and the city of Grants Pass since deep cuts to the jail and the district attorney's office were forced by voters who refused to raise their taxes to make up for the expiration of a federal timber subsidy.
The Grants Pass Daily Courier reported that burglaries were up 50 percent in Grants Pass and 45 percent in the rest of the southern Oregon county in 2012, compared with the previous year. Prosecutions were down 42 percent.
Grants Pass Public Safety Director Joe Henner said the county is seeing a failing criminal justice system.
"We're seeing increased crime," Henner said. "Our officers are saying they're having more hostile and violent encounters with suspects, who are challenging them and fighting."
Henner added that the numbers are likely to get worse.
Midway through last year, deep cuts affected jail, prosecution and rural patrol services, plus juvenile department services. "A full year (of statistics) likely would show greater call increases," Henner said.
Liquor store owner Jack Ingvaldson said there is "anarchy in the alleys" of downtown.
"I'm putting in gates to keep them out," he said. "I'm a pretty compassionate guy. I donate. But at what time does one run out of patience?"
At the district attorney's office, about 1,000 fewer misdemeanor and felony cases were prosecuted last year, compared with the previous year, according to District Attorney Stephen Campbell. Last year, about 1,400 cases were prosecuted versus 2,400 prosecutions the previous year.
"I lost four attorneys (out of nine)," he said. "And that's not a full year, either. I didn't lose those attorneys until July 1." Since then, a full-time and part-time attorney have been rehired.
Realtor Gerard Fitzgerald said the county is getting a reputation that threatens it economic future.
"People will not buy a house in an unsafe community," Fitzgerald said. "Once a community gets a reputation, it takes a long time to turn that around. If we get branded, it will be very, very serious. Right now, I don't think we have a reputation in Oregon as an unsafe community."
Risk to reputation is a particular concern because people from California move here and visit here, generating jobs, he said.
"If you cannot attract economic growth, then we do not have the jobs," Fitzgerald said. "We have a service economy. We now may have something that could threaten that service economy. We need to find a permanent, stable method of funding."