IRRIGON — The complaints from Southeast Utah Avenue just keep coming.
The Morrow County Sheriff’s Office received more than 85 complaints from the Irrigon neighborhood last month alone, and as mid-November approaches, the calls show no signs of stopping.
“We try to respond to those when we have people in the Irrigon area,” said Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack.
For the most part, complaints to the sheriff’s office are about speeding drivers. But occasionally, the complaints detail stories of dogs running around the neighborhood, loud music disrupting the peace and drivers who decide to use someone’s driveway to turn around on the street.
“There are times when we are out of the way and won’t be able to catch someone in the act, so to speak,” he said.
Those times — when deputies couldn’t locate the source of the complaints — totaled more than 40 in October, according to the daily activity bulletins from sheriff’s office. Multiple times last month, the sheriff’s office preformed area checks on the street to check up on traffic.
There are two men standing behind most of these calls, according to public records. The East Oregonian was unable to get hold of either prior to publication.
Recently, the sheriff’s office reorganized its staffing structure and added new hires, which, according to Matlack, allowed the agency to begin responding to calls on a near 24/7 basis.
But that doesn’t mean deputies catch every driving violation.
When it comes to smaller complaints, such as speeding, the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office, and other law enforcement agencies, can’t issue a citation or take action over a matter an officer doesn’t witness themselves, Matlack said. When called about a speeding violation, police have to witness the violation, and, according to Matlack, they aren’t about to stake out cars that fit the vehicle descriptions of these or any other complaints.
“If we don’t have the ability to determine who it is, does that mean we go to every car?” Matlack said. “Normally we don’t do that.”
Instead, Matlack said, when the deputies miss the action, they turn to community outreach. This involves knocking on doors and having discussions with the neighbors whose cars wind up in the sheriff’s call log, time and time again.
“For the most part, that does good, and things get better. But then sometimes maybe another rig moves in. That’s just part of the business, in my opinion,” he said.
Some of the complaints are mundane.
A complaint from Oct. 15 states the caller “advised the Nissan on Brandon (Street) came around the corner like it was a racetrack” and went on to say the person driving the car did this daily: “Three or four times in the morning and then in the afternoon.”
Others not so much.
In an Oct. 30 incident regarding a blue or black Ford pickup truck, dispatch stated the caller, “thinks the driver doesn’t have a license.”
Another time, two calls from the same day expressed frustration toward the sheriff’s office.
One complaint reads a caller reported a Pontiac was speeding in the area. The caller told dispatch if the vehicle came back onto Division Street, he would “deal with it himself.” The sheriff’s office attempted to get more information but the call disconnected.
Later that day, a caller “advised that if (the sheriff’s office) did not deal with” a Dodge pickup that was running stop signs, “he would deal with it by causing a big scene. And that he would deal with it the way he did before.”
According to the bulletin, the sheriff’s office was unable to locate that Dodge truck.
The calls coming from Utah Avenue are excessive, Matlack noted, but emergency calls always take precedence over these nonemergency complaints dialed into dispatch.
According to other area law enforcement, handling those nonemergency calls to dispatch requires walking a fine line.
The Stanfield Police Department, which has five officers, including one for code enforcement, doesn’t offer 24/7 response like the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office. But Stanfield Police Chief Bryon Zumwalt finds value in the issuing of nonemergency complaints.
“You want people to report, we want people to be our eyes and ears,” he said.
But, he said, he wouldn’t necessarily pay an officer overtime to go address a repeated driving complaint either.
Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts identified the challenge of nonemergency calls as a “delicate dance.”
“A lot of people can’t make that distinction that our authority is not unlimited,” he said. “Obviously a crime in progress will take precedence over a barking dog.”
But he said the documentation that occurs when someone reports suspicious activity to the police could sometimes be used to aid a larger case, which is what happened with the arrest of Lukah Chang for the murder of Amy Jane Brandhagen, 19, in 2012, and the attempted murder and assault of Karen Lange the following year.
Prior to the murder, the police had made a few minor contacts with Chang since he’d moved to the area the year before. Roberts said those run-ins helped speed up the arrest process later.
He said it’s important to have patience with those nonemergency calls.
“It may not seem like a big deal to you, but for the person who initiated the report, it’s the most important thing for the reporter,” Roberts said.
The Pendleton Police Department responds to all calls for service, but Roberts said that increasing demands on services, at least in Umatilla County, could change that.
“Day or night, four agencies in Umatilla County have that 24-hour coverage,” he added. “The community is acclimated to that.”