The Linn County Sheriff’s Office remains below full staffing, Sheriff Jim Yon told the Democrat-Herald editorial board Tuesday afternoon, but he’s making progress on the problem.
“We’re down about eight patrol deputies, but since 2014 it seems we’ve been behind in that area,” Yon said. “We have a certain standard when it comes to employees and we are going to hold the line on that.”
Yon said full patrol staffing is 50 and there currently are 42 deputies on the roads.
Yon said a couple of new hires are completing training and several others are about to enter their final interviews.
He’s also looked for additional corrections deputies, a jail nurse, a records clerk and a dispatcher.
“We are not the highest paying agency, but our total wage and benefits package is very competitive,” Yon said. “Also, we have a family atmosphere and there are numerous opportunities to vary your career, from working in area communities as well as forest patrol and marine work.”
Yon said his total authorized staffing level is 189.
Yon was appointed to fill retiring Sheriff Bruce Riley’s post in June 2018 and was elected to the office in November.
He said that although he has spent 25 years with the Sheriff's Office, being in the top spot provides a different perspective on the job.
“I worry a lot about our staff,” Yon said. “People expect a lot more accessibility and they think I can fix things that are way outside my authority, but overall, it’s going very well.”
Yon said his staff fared well during the recent winter storms and deputies aided Lane County deputies in digging out a man trapped miles behind fallen trees in the Oak Ridge area.
“Our two guys cut trees all day for two miles in and helped get the guy out,” Yon said.
Yon said he encourages Linn County residents to be prepared to be without services for two weeks.
“They should have enough food, water, gasoline, etc. to last two weeks,” Yon said. “They can buy packages of food and other supplies in bulk and that makes it a lot easier.”
Yon said his deputies are seeing increased call loads in part, he believes, because of Oregon legalized marijuana.
“There are 90 pages in the ORS (Oregon Revised Statutes) that deal with marijuana,” Yon said. “To me, it’s a messed up set of laws and it has created a lot of issues.”
Yon said communities are having to deal with issues such as the noxious odors maturing marijuana plants give off and the increased crimes he believes stem from marijuana use, including domestic assaults, theft, DUII, minor in possession and more.
Methamphetamines and heroin remain key drug issues in the county, Yon said.
In November, Linn County residents approved a ballot measure that makes the county sheriff responsible for determining whether new gun laws are constitutional. There are several gun rights bills that could be taken up this legislative session. Washington state recently approved stringent new gun laws and several county sheriffs said they will not enforce them.
Yon said he is taking a “wait and see” attitude.
“I’m not going to get excited until some of the proposed laws are being debated on the floor,” Yon said.
Yon said there already are laws on the books that deal with many of the issues being proposed in the bills.
“Our office has always supported the Second Amendment and we want to work with the legislature to keep a seat at the table on these issues,” Yon said. “We need to have a say and keep in contact with people at the Capitol every day.”
Yon said another legislative proposal, to increase the 911 tax on telephone services from 75 cents to $1.50, could have a positive effect. The additional funds would be dedicated to support 911 dispatch services.
“We get about $700,000 per year and an increase would allow us to perhaps decrease costs for our rural fire departments,” Yon said. “9-1-1 is where everything begins.”
Yon said it costs about $2.1 million per year to operate the county’s 911 center.
The Sheriff’s Office and jail are about 25 years old. Last year, the county spent about a million dollars on new roofing and this year, it is spending about $1.1 million to upgrade its cell door electronics, computers and video systems.
Yon said the next upgrade will be a new generator and upgrading computer systems.
“We are using the old generator that came out of the courthouse,” Yon said.
Yon said the 32 beds assigned to female inmates are full nearly every night.
“In the next few years, we are going to have to allocate more beds, perhaps in L or M blocks, to 48 beds for female inmates,” Yon said.
Yon said there are 232 total beds in the jail and the daily census is about 200 to 210 inmates.
Yon said it has been a tradition at the Sheriff’s Office that any resident who want to talk face-to-face with a deputy can do so and that will continue under his watch.
“It make take us a little longer to get there at times, but we will be there,” Yon said. “We also don’t have a phone tree. If you call our office, day or night, you will talk to a live person. We answer every call.”
Yon said the state is continuing to push mental health cases to the county level, but without adequate funding.
“There are many people who are truly in need, but we have no place to take them,” Yon said.
The Sheriff’s Office works closely with Linn County Mental Health, Yon said.
“Mental Health is providing us with staff members who come out with us into the field,” Yon said. “They respond with us and that has been a real success. Once we get the person calmed down, the Mental Health folks get right to work getting them the support they need. They are doing a great job and it’s working.”
Yon said the issue is that the state needs to provide more funding for the community-based programs.
In November, Linn County voters handily approved another four-year law enforcement levy of $2.83 per $1,000 property valuation. The levy is estimated to generate about $111.2 million over four years.
It funds about 76 percent of the Sheriff’s Office budget, 14 percent of the county juvenile department budget and 10 percent of the District Attorney’s office budget.
Yon said the levy has lost about $6 million per year due to tax compression in recent years, but that number is expected to decrease for the upcoming budget cycle due to the increase in real property values in the county.