HERMISTON - The city has been renting a bed in the Umatilla County jail for the past year and kept a warm body in it over 90 percent of the time, a figure officials say shows that even lesser offenses do not go unpunished.
In all, an offender was sleeping in the rented bed 334 days out of the possible 365, Police Chief Dan Coulombe said in a March 4 memo to City Manager Ed Brookshier, detailing the program's effectiveness in 2004.
The City Council rented the space to ensure that as many violators as possible would do some time, Brookshier said Monday. Under the system used by the county jail, which struggles with overcrowding, nonviolent and less egregious offenders are often released. By renting a bed, Hermiston is able to keep people in jail who might otherwise be released due to overcrowding.
"We want to keep certain types of people in custody so they understand there are consequences for their actions," Lt. Greg Anderson said.
A breakdown provided by Coulombe shows that 42 percent of those incarcerated were for drug crimes, about 38 percent for violent crimes and about 24 percent for property crimes.
The bed reservation costs the city about $20,000 a year, which Brookshier called a bargain.
"These are people who would not have seen jail time if not for this program," he said, noting that drugs and burglaries are top law enforcement priorities for Hermiston but often are not serious enough to qualify for the eligibility system the county uses to prioritize which type of offenders stay locked up.
Anderson noted that because violent crimes take precedence in the county's priority system, drug offenders would not be detained in lieu of jailing violent offenders.
A person accused of committing a crime considered a Measure 11 offense - the voter-approved measure that requires minimum mandatory sentences for violent offenders - "is probably going to stay in custody," Anderson said.
When two or more offenders are in line to take the bed, a supervisor in the Hermiston Police Department makes the decision which offender to incarcerate based on the seriousness of their crimes, Anderson said.
People filling the Hermiston bed were serving time for drug offenses on 78 days in 2004. Next was robbery, with 56, followed by outstanding warrants (39), burglary (38), unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (35) and menacing (34).