Communities have an obligation to properly fund police patrols


There is a disturbing and somewhat fashionable trend in conservative politics these days to strip out funding for important societal tools such as police protection and mental health. Fast forward a few years from now and we will be having a sad and profound discussion on how America has destroyed public safety in its towns, cities and counties.

Recently, many towns in New Jersey have laid off large swaths of police officers. Not surprising, crime has risen substantially.

For instance, Newark laid off 165 officers, Trenton 111 and Atlantic City 40.

What happens when police have to patrol without proper backup? In January, Lakewood, N.J. officer Christopher Matlosz was shot in the face on a routine stop; here in Oregon, Rainier Chief Ralph Painter was killed while responding to a call.

Both of those officers should have had additional patrol visibly nearby. Is it a stretch to surmise that funding pressures killed those men?

Decent people - in lawful and responsible communities - should agree that law enforcement is one of our most important priorities. We screen and train for the very best; however, we are becoming more and more cavalier about the process of keeping them employed.

We cannot expect police to patrol 'on the cheap' without proper backup, any more than we can expect our U.S. Marines to go out and hunt down terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan without proper backup. Why, even towns in the old west recognized the value of a sheriff for good law protection.

This country is going through some frightening and, frankly, sickening changes. On top of not funding public safety there are too many proposals to do away with mental health funding. It is making us a recusant, lawless society, ripe with squalor.

Recently, there were two police officers who were shot in Portland; one remains in serious condition. The first line of defense should have been a mental health help line that would have kept the shooter on the phone as the Portland Police Bureau safely positioned themselves to apprehend him.

But alas, we've gutted mental health and our police departments, while demanding that police officers absorb those mental health cuts as well as doing their public safety chores.

Consider the last three Oregon officers to have been shot: Steven Dodds, shot in January by suspect David Durham (who is still at large). Those interviewed who know Durham attest to his recent unstable mental condition.

Then there's our local hero, Rainier Chief Ralph Painter, who was shot and killed in January. Currently his suspected assailant is undergoing a 30-day psychiatric evaluation.

Portland suspect, Ralph Clyde - also who apparently has mental issues - was plotting to manufacture a 'suicide by police' (I personally disagree - why would he not answer the door where the police could have seen him armed, requested that he then drop the weapon and shot him when he did not respond?)

Frankly, there is no excuse not to fund mental health and public safety, if we are serious about maintaining a decent and safe society. We have given passes to incredibly wealthy people (the Bush Tax Cuts) and corporate tax cuts to large oil companies, and now scramble to deal with those choices.

Police shouldn't get the short end of that deal, however. They still must be properly paid to enforce the law and not to practice psychiatric medicine.

I have all but given up hope for this country and this state to come to grips with these decisions, but still have hope that my home here in Columbia County will do the right thing.

Will we insulate our community from this problem by stepping up to properly fund our local police and sheriff's office?

Will we recognize that life in our neighborhoods, for our kids and our families, is important?

We have lost so much in America on so many levels, my hope is we won't lose it on our immediate home turf.

- Randy Sanders, St. Helens