For the first time in a decade, South Wasco County will have a resident deputy, the Wasco County Commission decided Oct. 2. It will take up to a year to fill the position, the sheriff said.
Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill said he’s heard from South County residents for years about the need for a resident deputy who lives in and responds from South County. Earlier this year, he pitched the idea of adding two resident deputies.
A study group was assigned to research the issue in terms of need for the position as shown by call load and response times, as well as how to fund it. The commission heard its 49-page report and unanimously voted to add the post. That will bring the department up to 18 sworn officers, including the sheriff.
The call load in South Wasco County increased 123 percent in the five-year span from 2012 to 2017, going up from 670 calls a year to 1,494. It went from representing 19.8 percent of all calls in the county to accounting for 28.2 percent of all calls, he said.
The average response time to a call in South County in 2018 was 50 minutes, he said. “We didn’t even respond to 31 percent of those calls, we handled them over the phone,” he said. “We do not do good police work when you do it over the phone, it’s that simple.”
He said he heard about the need for a resident deputy at every meeting he went to in South County. “My deputies heard it too. ‘Where are you at? You’re never around.’”
Funding will come from a variety of sources, including contracts with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, each of which provide consistent yearly funding.
The resident deputy will fulfill the needs of contracts by patrolling on Forest Service, BLM and Oregon state lands, but will also do regular patrol and spend time in schools. “We’re going to be able to really focus in on a lot of different things,” Magill said. “We’re super stoked.”
The position will cost $95,000, which includes employer costs in addition to wages and benefits.
The Forest Service provides $24,000 a year, the BLM $10,000 a year and Oregon Parks contributes $90,000. Magill said the county general fund will contribute $20,000 to the position.
The county will also save money by purchasing one fewer patrol car per year— from four down to three—for at least the next four to five years. That’s a yearly savings of around $30,000.
The county has also switched to a different patrol car, the Ford Interceptor, which gets better gas mileage and has much lower maintenance costs than the previous Ford Expeditions, he said.
The department will also look at grant opportunities for equipment and materials, but Magill turns a skeptical eye on grants for personnel. They’re rare and competitive, but they can also expose the county to costs such as paying for unemployment when the grant runs out. “It’s not that they’re off the table but I put them under a pretty heavy eye,” he said.
In a few weeks he will start planning the timing of it. There are three options. First will be offering the job internally. If nobody applies, the county will advertise for a lateral transfer deputy, one who has already passed police academy and has experience. “That’s a pretty tough row to hoe because the market is so tight,” he said.
Then, if no laterals apply, the sheriff’s office will open up the application process for a new hire with no experience.
If everything worked out ideally, the soonest Magill could have a resident deputy in place would be about four months. Even if a current deputy seeks the position, he is short staffed and is training new deputies, so he needs experienced deputies on hand to train the new ones.
A lateral hire would take 4-8 months to get in position, and a new hire would be a yearlong process.
The resident deputy will have a schedule tailored to South County needs. It could mean something like targeted shifts over the summer in areas heavily frequented by visitors, such as Rock Creek, Pine Hollow, Wamic and the Deschutes River and Mt. Hood National Forest.
The department has seen significant personnel changes, with six staff departures, to retirement or other work. It is also in the midst of hiring several deputies to positions that have gone unfilled for some time. Improvements to benefits were made recently, making the positions more attractive; before, the weaker benefit package effectively negated the pay boost of the position.