Rural legislators wary of Oregon State Police cuts

PORTLAND — Rural legislators are pushing back against a budget-slashing plan to cut detectives from the Oregon State Police in a last-ditch effort to rescue positions they say are critical to public safety in sparsely populated areas.

Legislators on Tuesday found $6 million from the general fund to stave off about half the cuts. An original proposal to cut 25 detectives was reduced to a cut of 12 detectives after negotiations Tuesday, said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner.

The issue is of particular significance to rural areas, where state police detectives and troopers often serve as an extra local police agency for areas suffering from budget cutbacks to county sheriffs and police departments.

"When you lose a single state trooper, that has a rippling effect throughout a rural community," Smith said. "We just don't have the ability to lose one trooper without having an impact."

State police detectives assigned to regional drug task forces, for instance, have taken on roles on major crime teams, from performing flashy casework on homicides, to chasing fugitives and even handling the nitty-gritty writing of warrants.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, said interagency agreements allow state and local police to share patrol duty of an area without unnecessary overlap. Losing those troopers, he said, is akin to making cuts to the police force.

"When any one gets out of balance, it really throws an adverse effect on those other agencies," Huffman said. "It's critical to the overall balance for these rural communities."

In most state police layoff scenarios, detectives get a layoff notice and then bump younger, cheaper patrol staffers out of their jobs. To account for the higher detective salaries, the state police would have to lay off more patrol officers.

The math comes to about four patrol positions lost for every three detectives cut.

The state police will have final discretion over where the cuts will fall — the detectives cut wouldn't necessarily come from rural areas. But even if those cuts come from high-population areas, Rep. Wayne Kreiger, R-Gold Beach, said remaining detectives may be then shifted to rural areas and would almost certainly apply for a transfer.

"If you've got somebody who's got 10, 15 years on, maybe assign him to traffic in Gold Beach, what you're going to end up with is a very disgruntled family who will put in for a transfer," Kreiger said.

State police spokesman Gregg Hastings said the agency anticipates losing 12 detectives from its Criminal Investigations Division, but he said it will not release details on the proposed cuts or the geographic area from which they would come.

While the Legislature can't dictate where the cuts will be made, Smith said they will ask the state police to be "as strategic as possible about the cuts."

The state police can go to the Legislature's Emergency Board and ask for funds to replace the money lost for the detectives, Smith said. If the next revenue forecast shows an improvement, they have a shot.

"That," Smith said, "would be awesome."

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