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Sheriffs report highlights highs, lows

Operations are holding steady despite past cuts, states the annual report recently released by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, but this year's tight county budget will likely bring its own challenges.

"You can't keep cutting and maintain services," Sheriff Jeff Dickerson said. The county's proposed budget will not be released until later this month, but Dickerson is already preparing himself for bad news.

Dickerson"The reality is the county's out of money," he said. With a poor economy and dwindling state and grant resources to fall back on, "You can't get frustrated over that."

His annual report reflects some of these limitations, but "Despite having less than half the number of sworn enforcement staff, we continue to out-preform the results of the past in activities and investigative reports," Dickerson writes.

For examples, he points to the Marine Patrol Unit tasked with regularly patrolling a stretch of the large and busy Columbia River. In 2012, the patrol issued 95 citations despite having fewer on-the-water hours than in 2009 and 2010 and leaving 2011's number of 50 in the dust. Sheriff's Office marine manager Lt. Dustin Hald was able to secure funding from the Oregon Marine Board to bring in two new boats to replace aging vessels. The new boats will be on the water by this summer.

But budget cuts could affect the office's investigatory abilities.

Last year, the office relied heavily on two detectives, one following up on criminal cases generated by 911 calls, investigating child abuse cases and serving on the Columbia County Major Crimes Team while the second detective was assigned to the county's Columbia Enforcement Narcotics Team, a team that combines law enforcement from a variety of offices. However, this detective's position was funded through a federal grant which ended in December. The Sheriff's Office plans to continue funding the position until the end of the fiscal year this summer, but looming budget cuts have put the position at risk.

The enforcement division hit highs in its investigations last year, however, with 23 major felony drug arrests, compared to 2011's six. Miscellaneous drug arrests with charges were down from 39 in 2011 to 19 in 2012.

The jail experienced a number of shifts and changes last year after jail operations were first reduced in 2011. The number of beds was reduced and Dickerson eliminated four corrections staff positions in 2012.

Of the 150 beds the jail has kept since 2011, 85 were reserved for the detention of federal inmates. The U.S. government pays for local facilities, like the Columbia County Jail, to house its inmates who are awaiting trial. This money is what really helps to keep the jail open, Dickerson said on a recent tour of the facility.

Without the federal dollars from these beds, "Even significant cuts to the County budget might make it impossible to continue to run a safe, secure and constitutionally correct facility," the annual report states.

The total annual cost to run the jail is $3.6 million.

To view the full report, visit www.co.columbia.or.us/sheriff