Wasco County is sending pairs of deputies to do five-day community policing stints in Harney County, as the militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge continues.
Chief Deputy Lane Magill and Sgt. Chris McNeel took the first shift, going to Burns, the seat of Harney County, on Monday, Jan. 4 and returning Friday, Jan. 8.
Magill described their work as being a friendly presence in the community, where residents are “on edge.”
“That’s what community policing is, it’s making contact with your citizens and visiting them about issues they may have and assisting them,” he said.
A new pair of deputies relieved them over the weekend and Magill said pairs of local deputies will continue to provide coverage for five-day stints. The next pair of deputies will be sent out on Thursday. He didn’t know how long the arrangement would last.
“We saw numerous militia members,” Magill said, while they were on patrol around Burns. He didn’t see Ammon Bundy or his brothers, who are leading the occupation of the bird refuge 30 miles south of Burns.
He also saw every local TV station, staff from the Oregonian, and a group he was told belonged to the French media. He didn’t see any famous media stars.
As for militia, when he and McNeel did have contacts with them, he said they were “cordial and professional. They were not confrontational.”
Those contacts came about because, “there was certain situations where there would be a number of them show up at certain locations in the area and we had contact that way with them.”
The occupiers are seeking return of the federal land on the 187,000-acre refuge to local use. Monday, Bundy and others removed some fencing on the refuge to allow a local rancher’s cattle to graze in the refuge.
Wasco County is paying for the gas and wages of the deputies it is sending to Harney County. It is still undetermined who will ultimately pay for their lodging, Magill said. He said the locals were so welcoming of police that they were treated to a few home cooked meals.
Magill said Harney County’s own law officers were first responders to most calls for service, and if the Wasco County patrol car was in the area, they would stay there as backup. They were not initial responders on any calls because it falls to local deputies to do the reports and any needed follow-up work later on.
He said locals understood the problems with federal overreach, but want to solve the problem “in the right way. They don’t want to do it the way it’s happening now, there’s a lot of apprehension in the totality of the circumstances now.”
Magill, who grew up wheat and cattle ranching, said, “I sympathize with the people that believe that there are certain situations where there’s federal overreach. However, what I do not accept, in any way or shape, I do not condone armed takeovers to get what you want.”
He said, “I’m always an optimist in any kind of situation and I think there’s good things that can come out of this for everybody. We have to have a balance, we need to all work together, for crying out loud; we’re all Americans here. We all live in this great country and I think we have the fortitude and hopefully the common sense to persevere in these types of situations and turn something that’s potentially a bad situation or an uncomfortable situation into something that’s very positive for everyone, locally, statewide and nationally. How we get there, you know, I’m not sure how to do that.”