In February 2014, small town police departments in Umatilla and Morrow counties were having a difficult time filling positions and finding qualified employees, and the relatively expensive agencies were swallowing up city budgets.
At the time, we advised those cities to consider combining resources with a nearby city of similar size, or contracting with a larger organization such as the county sheriff’s office.
Some took our advice. Weston, for instance, now uses the Umatilla County Sheriff’s office for regular patrols and investigations within city limits, and the local response has largely been positive. Though some in Weston would rather have their own force, we’d argue the city is getting better police service at a cost savings of more than $60,000 annually.
Others did not take our advice. The city of Stanfield’s police force two years ago was just one overworked officer and the city was trying and failing to fill positions. Fast forward two years, and Stanfield’s police force is again just one overworked officer and, again, the office is in disarray. The only thing different now is that two Stanfield cops are suspended and under investigation. Oh, and there is also the significant possibility of the city being sued in relation to the matter — which would almost certainly cost the city financially, in one way or another.
In the last two years, Pilot Rock has become the poster child for a small town trying to figure out how best to handle public safety.
Finding good employees has been a struggle for the city of 1,500, caused both by tragic luck and incapable employees. Currently, the city has no officers. In that absence, the Pendleton Police Department has loaned out an officer for the day-to-day law enforcement work.
Pilot Rock may have the opportunity to contract longterm with Pendleton police or even the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, and city council and staff is now nervously exploring that opportunity.
We’d again argue it can bring consistency and professionalism, and would allow Pilot Rock policing — two years from now — to look more like Weston than Stanfield.
A community is far safer with trained and qualified personnel on duty year-round than a revolving door of officers with little oversight or support. Each small city must decide what is best for them, but we continue to advise that having quality law enforcement professionals working in your city matters most — the insignia on their uniform matters much less.