Oregon State Police Lieutenant Michael Davidson found it ironic that even as emergency responders were being commended on Sept. 11 for their dedication to citizens, pink slips had begun winging their way to 131 troopers.
Davidson, the commander of The Dalles field office — which serves Wasco, Hood River and Sherman counties — stands to lose 50 percent of his patrol officers under Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposal to close a $482 million budget gap.
When the statewide layoffs take place on Oct. 1, Davidson said eight of his 16 troopers will be gone — reducing patrols along Interstate 84 and other area state highways and lengthening response times to calls for help.
“Whatever calls we’re not available to take are going to fall to the counties,” said Davidson.
These looming layoffs have Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler worried that his budget will be taxed with higher overtime costs and his manpower spread too thin.
“This situation just puts that much more pressure on us and is going to hurt our ability to be in more populated areas where we are needed the most,” said Wampler.
Of equal concern to Hood River City Police Chief Tony Dirks is the potential endangerment of his officers when backup is not available during crisis situations.
“This is going to be felt pretty significantly, we rely on the OSP almost daily to answer accident calls on the freeway outside of Hood River and for corraboration in many other incidents,” said Dirks.
For example, Wampler said the high number of accidents near Mt. Hood and along the freeway during winter storms can often tie up one or more officers for hours, lowering the response time for other needs.
Dirks said his department will feel the crunch during the summer tourist season when there are more motorists on the freeway and the city is filled with visitors.
According to Davidson, Kitzhaber’s new plan to eliminate $8.8 from the OSP budget follows $10 million of cuts that have already been made this year. He is joined by Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, in the belief that the added reduction will cripple the agency’s ability to fulfill its “protect and serve” role.
In addition to lost troopers, Davidson said the Fish and Wildlife position assigned to Condon will be eliminated, as will the regional child abuse investigator and participation on MINT (Mid-Columbia Interagency Narcotics Task Force.)
“My hope is that we’re able to find a bi-partisan solution soon because this is unacceptable,” Smith said.
In the first six months of this year, The Dalles OSP office arrested 87 drunk drivers, responded to 138 accidents, and logged 7,332 citations and arrests. That total includes 4955 tickets for traffic violations, 210 criminal arrests, and 68 arrests for narcotics use/sale. Troopers also registered 9,462 warnings and arranged towing for 46 abandoned vehicles.
In addition to enforcement duties, Davidson said during that same time period his officers assisted 1,124 motorists and inspected 475 commercial vehicles, 119 of which were put out of service for driver or equipment safety violations.
“Basically, if you lose half your staff, you lose half your productivity,” said Davidson.
But he said there is a human element to the staffing reductions as well since it will leave many officers and their families without an income.
“They’re our friends, they’re our co-workers, they’re people we’ve worked with for awhile, people we’ve trained,” said Davidson.
The upcoming layoff is an emotional time for Trooper Athena Clark, 22, a single mom with a three-year-old daughter to provide for. In December, Clark moved to The Dalles in the belief that she had fulfilled her career goal to become a state police officer. She was excited about making it through the arduous hiring process and ready to enter the 18 probation period.
However, because layoffs are done on a strict seniority basis, Clark joins many of her fellow cadets from four academy classes in the unemployment line.
“I feel a little bit betrayed and I’m obviously going to have to find another job — probably in law enforcement because that has been my lifelong dream,” Clark said.