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A 911 call in an unsafe county
By Caitlin Conrad/KTVL.comGRANTS PASS, Ore -- County Commissioners say it's arguable the Sheriff's Office operations are already unsafe for deputies. What has become obvious for many living in the county is that not having law enforcement puts their lives at risk. When the 2012 levy failed the Sheriff's Office was hacked apart, leaving just three patrol deputies, working eight hours a day, five days a week. Even after adjustments many calls for service still go unanswered. Back in August a 911 call was made out of Cave Junction. The woman on the line asking for help. She tells the dispatcher someone is breaking into her house, it's my ex boyfriend, I told him I was going to call, he's now trying to break in the window, the anonymous caller says. Oregon State Police is the agency on the line because dispatch in Josephine County is closed for the day. The dispatcher tells her there is no one to send, The sheriff's Office doesn't work up there, I don't have anybody to send, the woman says.As the call progresses the resident stays on the line. She tells the dispatcher the man has assaulted her in the past, he's blocked her car in, and broken her cell phone, which stores all her contact numbers. The woman is told to call back the next day and report a crime if he gets in. No officers responded and Michael Bellah, her ex-boyfriend, was able to break in. He was later convicted of raping and choking her the same evening of the call.The lack of deputies dangerous for residents and officers, who can't back each other up. Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says he needs at least two officers to respond to a domestic or to any violent calls, which are the only ones the county now responds to. Costs are going up and there is no new money. The past four safety levies have failed and the sheriff needs an extra $300,000 on top of what he got last year to keep things status quo. If Gilbertson doesn't get extra funds this coming year he'll have to lay-off four more people.I'll be down to one patrol deputy and to be honest with you, there's no way that I can put one person out there on a patrol by himself with out a back-up, the Sheriff said.Which brings up the question when is it too unsafe to have a Sheriff's Office? Commissioner Simon Hare the says line may have already been crossed. However, he says it's unacceptable to not have a criminal justice system. Hare says his goal is to keep what the county has even though it means cutting other services. With a District attorney's Office, and a jail there is a semblance of a criminal justice system, he said.Right now the county has $4 million in reserves. Hare says with the way things are going they will probably use all of it in the next fiscal year, and then pay the piper next June, he said. Governor Kitzhaber is working on state of emergency fund legislation. The bill would provide relief but at a price. Having a sheriff is state mandated and the Governor can determine if the mandate is met. If the legislation passes the state will be able to come in an impose an income tax, the dollar amount will be for the coverage it sees fit.