ENTERPRISE - Among those closely watching for the outcome of the Jan. 28 election are members of the Oregon State Police who face major cutbacks if the proposed increase in state income taxes is defeated by voters.
Lt. Reg Madsen of La Grande said 145 state troopers will lose their jobs statewide if the measure fails. He also said the agency would lose many of its clerical workers.
Locally, the Wallowa County OSP office would be gutted. Wallowa County has three game officers, two patrol officers and Sgt. Randy Palmer. If the measure fails only Palmer and game trooper Seth Cooney would keep their jobs. A process Lt. Darin Helman calls "re-balancing our strength" has yet to be addressed officially by the OSP headquarters in Salem. But under that process, experienced officers may be reassigned to other areas. One example might require that Palmer transfer elsewhere rather than oversee the efforts of one trooper.
Milton-Freewater would lose one of its two troopers, which would mean the loss of the only bilingual officer in northern Umatilla County. All OSP cuts will be determined by reverse order of tenure, meaning that officers with the least seniority would lose their jobs first.
The effects will be dramatic if the elections one measurefails to pass. Many areas in northeast Oregon, if not all of them, would lose 24-hour OSP patrol coverage.
"The Oregon State Police, as we currently know it in Umatilla and Morrow counties, will no longer exist," said Helman, who oversees state police efforts in those two counties.
If the measure fails, Morrow County will no longer have officers assigned specifically to the county, Helman said. Both officers in Heppner - one patrol officer and one game officer - would lose their positions. Helman said coverage would have to come out of the Hermiston office.
But Hermiston also would lose four officers, but may have officers transferred from other areas to take up some of the slack.
Out of Pendleton's 11 patrol officers, the office would lose three.
"We (in Umatilla and Morrow counties) are getting hit pretty bad, but there are other areas getting hit worse," Helman said.
Madsen said there were 655 Oregon State Police troopers in the early 1980s. At that time the OSP was funded through highway trust funds. Since the department's funding source transferred to the general fund, which faces great competition for the available dollars, the number of officers has steadily declined.
Madsen said there are 380 sworn in troopers employed in the state today, a number that will drop to 235 if the tax measure fails. That compares with 700 state police officers employed in Washington state, Madsen said.
Helman said the top priority statewide for the agency will be highway safety, which may come at the expense of other areas of police coverage. He said that detectives and drug enforcement personnel may be reassigned to highway coverage.
One possible casualty of the proposed cuts could be the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT), which serves Umatilla and Morrow counties. Helman assumes that he would have to pull his two members off of the team for highway patrol.
"It will be difficult to provide the level of services people expect from us," Madsen said.