Police Academy Two: Citizens on Patrol!
The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office citizens academy gave its citizen recruits an inside look at the patrol division - the public face of law enforcement in the community.
'After 5 p.m. and on the weekends, we're the only visible sign of the government,' said Lieutenant Dave O'Shaughnessy. 'We get to be social workers at night, which is frustrating for a lot of our deputies, because we're not trained for it.
'It's almost like the old days, when you would call the telephone operator, and they would patch you through to who you need. It's not just about crushing crime and arresting bad guys any more. It's evolved into more than that.'
The patrol division incorporates many of the department's specialized functions, such as the SWAT team, search and rescue operations and the aero division - but its primary mission is to patrol the county's 7,900 miles of roads and highways.
This rare look behind the scenes at traffic enforcement proved too much of a temptation for local sign shop owner Steven Thomas, who asked the questions that have crossed the minds of every motorist that has every seen a police cruiser in the rear-view mirror.
'I heard from someone once that sheriff's deputies aren't as likely as the regular police to write a citation - is that true?' he asked.
O'Shaughnessy summoned up a slide in his PowerPoint presentation that indicated the office had issued 22,022 traffic citations in 2005 - the most recent year for which data is available.
'We have a five-person traffic team going like gangbusters,' said the lieutenant. 'We issue about 60 traffic citations per day, but I'd estimate that we do five to eight times that many traffic stops, when we don't write a citation.'
He did have one insight to offer Thomas.
'If they are on two wheels, you're going to get a ticket,' O'Shaughnessy said, holding the handlebars of an imaginary motorcycle. 'That's what they're out there to do. If they are on four wheels, you might stand a chance.'
Thomas pressed ahead with another question, perforating another myth about traffic enforcement.
'I've always thought if you were going no faster than seven miles per hour above the speed limit, you'd be okay,' he said.
The lieutenant laughed: 'Are we going to have to parse the meaning of the word, 'limit?' Realistically, you could be stopped for going one mile per hour over the limit.'
By the numbers
In his presentation, O'Shaughnessy offered many numeric descriptors of the patrol division. It includes one captain, five lieutenants, 20 sergeants, 114 deputies, 10 community service officers and four support personnel. Each works four 10-hour days per week.
Most have other assignments, as well: serving as members of the SWAT team or as search and rescue coordinators, scuba divers or pilots.
In 2005, the patrol division responded to 74,667 calls - an average of 204 per day.
'That's one every seven minutes, on average' he said.
In responding to those incidents, officers prepared 57,836 police reports.
The rapidly growing county that O'Shaughnessy and his fellow deputies serve has an estimated population of 361,300. Of those 149,370 live in its cities, with the remaining 211,930 inhabitants making their homes on unincorporated land.
'We are the most visible arm of the sheriff's office,' he said. 'This is where the entry-level sworn personnel begin their careers. Detectives are fed out of patrol. Civil process is fed out of patrol. Special units are fed out of patrol.'
In addition to its county-wide duties, the sheriff's office provides police services to several of the region's cities under contract. These range from Estacada, with two deputies assigned 14 hours per day, to Wilsonville, which has 16 personnel providing 24-hour coverage under the leadership of a lieutenant who serves as its chief of police.
'This is a big cost savings for the cities, because they don't need to create all of the supporting infrastructure, that a full police department would require,' said O'Shaughnessy.
Hide and seek
Among the busiest of the specialized units within the patrol division is Search and Rescue, according to John Gibson, one of eight SAR coordinators within the sheriff's office.
'In 2006, we conducted 107 missions - which is about one every three days,' said Gibson. 'Search and rescue is the busiest specialty unit, and Clackamas is the busiest county in the state.'
Pausing, he gestured out the window to the east.
'The primary cause is the white moron magnet called Mt. Hood,' he said. 'It's the second most frequently climbed mountain in the world. The first is Mt. Fuji, and that's because it's the site of a religious pilgrimage.'
The mountain is unique for its close proximity to Portland and its international airport, and for the technical challenges it provides for climbers who are headed to even more extreme challenges elsewhere in the world.
'Within two hours of landing, they can be at the base of the mountain,' said Gibson.
He explained that much of the actual searching is done by trained volunteers, who can number more than 300 in a large incident.
'We search until the sheriff tells us to stop,' Gibson explained. 'We look at mathematical models which tell us the probability of actually finding a person in the search area, and also look at the possibility of survival, given the weather and other factors.
'If we don't find a person, that's an open case. We never terminate a search, we suspend it. Often, we'll continue a search for months or years as part of training exercises. Just because we've said enough's enough doesn't mean we stop looking.'
Search and rescue brings with it hazards apart from severe weather, the deputy explained.
'I do more paperwork on a search than I ever do taking somebody to jail,' he said.