Relief is on the way, but for the next nine months staffing levels at Hood River Sheriff’s Office are way down.
The unexpected situation with Det. Marc Smith — on administrative leave pending criminal charges — has aggravated what was already a significant reduction in patrol numbers for the agency, according to Sheriff Matt English.
One deputy, Dylan Lerch, recently departed for a job with Multnomah County, Deputy Jess Flem retired in July, and three deputies are out on medical leave, according to English.
The result: the county does not currently have 24-hour patrol coverage, English said.
“We are providing absolutely the best coverage we can, given the resources we have,” English said.
Smith, 43, faces charges of luring a minor, sex abuse, as well as private and public indecency, after his arrest last week. Smith was immediately placed on administrative leave and the sheriff requested that the Oregon State Police conduct an investigation into Smith’s actions. Smith was booked at NORCOR and released after posting bail.
English has assigned two deputies per shift, which means that some shifts, subject to change, have no one on. The alternative was to assign one deputy per shift, but English decided not to.
“It’s a lot to ask to have one person on duty without a backup,” he said. “In revising our staffing plan, we had to weigh that factor of safety.”
Four new deputies have been hired (photo, page A10), but they will not be eligible to serve on patrol until mid-2017, after they have completed Oregon Police Academy this fall, a 16-week program, followed by another 12-15 weeks of field training starting in March 2017.
The new deputies are Caitlin Plese, Curtis Kowall (who has been a reserve since 2014), George Jubitz (son of former Hood River Police officer Aaron Jubitz), and Adam Vandenbos (an eight-year Army veteran). Plese will be the county’s first female patrol deputy hired in years, since Tiffany Hicks served the department about 16 years ago.
English said he is happy that a woman has been hired for patrol, and he likes the experience overall of his new recruits, but the reality is that citizens must wait for them to take their place on the patrol rotation. Further, English expects another two deputies to depart soon, for better-paying jobs elsewhere.
It’s a particularly vexing situation for English and his staff, who he said have shown “true dedication under the circumstances.”
“Everyone on our staff is committed to this community,” English said. “We are really fortunate to have such dedicated people.
“We’re all handling tons of responsibility and there is little capability for people to take time off, but everyone is committed. Everyone has shown they put the operational needs of the office first,” he said.
English pointed out the department has added only three positions since 1990, yet the population of the county has increased by more than 40 percent in that time, and the impact of tourism has greatly impacted his agency’s responsibilities, given the rise in water sports as well as back country recreation.
“We need the staff to address the recreational aspect, but we also need more positions above those assigned to respond to recreation, just to cover the call load and shifts,” English said.
He wants the county to look at a dedicated sales tax for recreational enforcement status, or creation of a local taxing district to help pay for staffing.
English and Chief Deputy Brian Rockett are filling some of the void by taking a patrol shift once each week. Smith was part of that rotation, too, meaning that English and Rocket will take turns every third week taking that shift.
Deputy John Harvey, who patrols Cascade Locks, can be given some general patrol assignments, but the county is contractually obligated to Cascade Locks to keep Harvey there for 24 hours each week. In addition, Harvey will step down from the agency in January to take on his new role as Justice of the Peace in Cascade Locks. He was elected in May.
Help is coming from Sherman and Wasco Counties, and Oregon State Patrol, who are fully aware of the situation and routinely communicate their deputies’ and troopers’ whereabouts to the Sheriff’s Office, and act as backup. Sherman and Wasco counties are also providing backup detective services, handling some of Hood River’s backlog, in the absence of Smith, who has served both as patrol deputy and detective.
“The other agencies have been fantastic,” he said. “It’s a definite reflection of the work we have done over the years to foster partnerships in the area.”