Hood River County parole and probation officers tasked with monitoring adult offenders will now have the option of carrying a firearm while in the field and the office.
During its regular meeting on Monday, the Hood River County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to allow Community Justice officers working in the Adult Division to carry firearms. Officers working in the Juvenile Department are still not allowed to be armed.
Community Justice Adult and Juvenile Director Deirdre Kasberger told commissioners Monday night that her officers in the Adult Division needed to have the option to carry due to the dangerous nature of their jobs, which require monthly visits to the homes of 120 high-risk offenders currently living in Hood River County.
“We’re not seeing the same offenders in the community that we were seeing 20 years ago,” she explained. “We’re seeing higher-risk offenders; we’re seeing a lot more drugs; we’re seeing a lot more mentally ill offenders; and therefore the risk to probation officers is far more significant.”
Kasberger reported that of the 36 counties in Oregon, only two, Polk and Washington, do not allow their probation and parole officers to be armed besides Hood River County. She said she contacted the community justice program directors in these counties to see why they decided against arming their officers.
“A lot of them are philosophical reasons,” Kasberger noted. “They have to do with that the nature of a probation officer is rehabilitative. That although these guys are sworn public safety officers, their primary role is rehabilitation. So there’s a lot of debate around does that change the nature of the business that they’re doing that they’re carrying a firearm? Does the public view them differently? Do the probationers view them differently?”
Currently, Kasberger said probation and parole officers will request a Hood River County Sheriff’s deputy to accompany them when visiting the residences of particularly dangerous offenders. Unfortunately, though, that’s not always an option.
“That’s a distraction from law enforcement’s primary role. In addition, as we’re all aware, the city and the county are shorthanded and that’s not always possible,” she explained. “So we’re in a situation now where we have provided our officers with ballistics vests, they have OC strips, spray, masks. They have some tools, some equipment, but from my perspective, we’ve not given them every advantage, every opportunity to make sure they go home at night.”
Commission Chair Ron Rivers asked Sheriff Matt English, who was in the audience, to give his perspective. English, who started his law enforcement career in Hood River County as a parole and probation officer, said he was “100-percent” supportive of the decision to arm.
“(Community Justice officers) are dealing with some very bad people,” he said. “I mean, it can be anyone from someone who has been out of prison for murder or robbery, burglars, drug offenders, drug dealers, and people that are very dangerous. And when you go to somebody’s house unannounced, or you try to arrest them in your office, there’s certainly the potential to have a fight, certainly the potential to bring a weapon or have a weapon accessible. They (officers) need to have all the tools that we have in order to protect themselves.”
Before the vote, County Commissioner Karen Joplin asked a number of questions of Kasberger, including how many officers would want to “exercise that option” when it came to carrying a gun. Kasberger said two out of three current Adult Division officers were interested in arming themselves. She also explained that officers have to go through the same kind of training as the sheriff’s department, including psych evaluations, before they would be allowed to carry.
English said he reviewed Community Justice’s “comprehensive” firearm use policy and was pleased with what he read.
“Clearly when you put guns in play you’re going to have a little more liability, but I’m very comfortable with the thought that’s gone into this,” English said, “and the fact that they’re going to have the training necessary and you know, with it being optional, I would be comfortable with all of the staff there being armed. I don’t have any issue with it.”