Funds typically used to make equipment upgrades
A considerable law enforcement grant was recently cut by 65 percent, highlighting the adverse effects of budgetary constraints.
This year, Oregon's share of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) was reduced to $1.2 million - a substantial decrease from last year's $3.4 million.
While the Prineville Police Department usually only receives $10,000 from the grant, it affords the agency improvements which wouldn't be attained otherwise.
"We typically use the JAG every year to upgrade equipment," PPD Chief Eric Bush said. "We've managed, over the last several years, to upgrade our portable radios. We're replacing radios that were 15 to 16 years old with radios that are digital ready. Without that money, we wouldn't have that flexibility. Whatever we would have bought with those grant dollars is going to have to come from somewhere else or we're just not going to be able to buy it."
Counties across the state are bracing for the impact of the decreased grant. However Bush emphasized his reservations for the use of the unreliable funds.
"As much as we'd like to be able to count on it for years to come, it's literally a year by year thing," he continued. "That's one of the reasons why we don't count on the money for police salaries or something like that. We try to keep it focused on special projects - things that we need to do, but that aren't necessarily mission critical for the moment."
The foreseeable lack of grant funding will have an impact on the PPD, however the more immediate need for a budget increase motivates Bush to creatively manage the agency's finances.
"The funding for public safety comes exclusively comes out of the general fund, which is almost all property taxes," Bush said. "The bottom line is the property tax rates do not keep up with the increased cost of operations. Wages, benefits, equipment cost and fuel costs - all of that is going up much faster than the 3 percent a year allowed by Oregon property tax laws. It doesn't matter if fuel has gone up 25 percent, or wages have gone up 5 percent, or health care insurance has gone up 20 percent. It just doesn't matter."
His frustration is based on a number of factors, including the increased number of service calls with an unchanged amount of police officers to respond.
"The PPD responded to more than 18,000 calls for service last year." Bush said. "Out of those, a certain percentage of them were generated by the police officer. It was something they generated themselves because they were out there on the street, in theory, able to prevent a crime before it occurred, or they stopped a crime in progress. Versus somebody calls up and says, `My garage was broken into and my chainsaw was stolen'. That would be a reactionary response."
In years past, 50 percent of the incidents were officer generated and 50 percent were instigated by calls into the dispatch center. Last year, officer response rose to 62 percent of the service calls, while officer generated instances declined to 38 percent.
"That tells me that the officers are spending less time out on the road finding things and stopping things before they occur, versus just having to go from call to call," Bush continued. "That doesn't surprise me a bit because that is a very consistent with the fact that we have grown so much in the past four to five years and we have not added any staff. The ones where people call us, those are the ones that we go to first, because obviously, you have to."
With the PPD's budget increasing only slightly every year, the rise in Prineville's population has Bush concerned for the future of the city, as well as the current level of protection local officers can offer.
"When you figure the cost of increased operations, there's an erosion in the resources available to pubic safety and it's been going on here in Prineville for many years," Bush said. "That's precisely why we simply cannot do the things that we used to be able to do here. We don't have the level of proactive law enforcement that we had here 10 years ago. Prineville was the fastest growing city in the state of Oregon last year and we've got the same number of police officers that we had in 2003. Every year it's just a battle just to keep the people that we've got."
While the officers try to combat the influx of destructive wrongdoings, they often find that their resources are simply spread too thin.
"We work very hard to meet the mission of the city of Prineville," Bush continued. "One of those things is to keep this a clean, safe place to live, work and play. Every year it gets harder and harder. What you'll see, if you look over time, is a slow but steady decline in the quality of life in the community as a result. What do we want it to look like? It's really in our hands. We just can't keep burying our head in the sand and thinking Prineville is going to be like it was in 1990. It requires action on our part to make that happen."
For now, Bush is prepared to negotiate the PPD's budget in order to better serve the community's needs.
"I have some plans on how to resolve that and some solutions, but they all cost money. That's the challenge," he said. "You have to go back to the taxpayer and say, `What kind of community do you really want? Do you want the community you've always known and loved, or do you want something different?' It's ultimately up to the taxpayer to decide that question. I wouldn't be so concerned about this if I didn't really care about this community."