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April 23, 2013
POLK COUNTY -- Nobody will be left without a job as a result of the Polk County Sheriff's Office reductions in fiscal year 2013-14 due to budget shortfalls.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that with the need to cut four positions currently filled, the department is losing employees with more than 30 years of combined experience in Polk County law enforcement.
Detective Burney Krauger will retire June 30 and three other patrol deputies have taken jobs with other agencies well before budget cuts are to take effect July 1.
"At least this year, unlike last year, I did not need to call employees into my office and tell them they were no longer going to be employed," Sheriff Bob Wolfe said in a press release last week.
To balance the budget for the current fiscal year, Wolfe had to cut eight control technician positions in the Polk County Jail, drawing down the jail staff to a minimum.
As with last year, making due with a smaller staff and lost experience will be difficult.
Bob Wolfe, Polk County Sheriff
Krauger has been with the department for 18 years and is currently the lead child abuse investigator for the county. Detective John Williams will take over child abuse cases, but that is only part of his job description.
"He will ultimately become my only detective," Wolfe said.
Sgt. Mark Garton, who also works on the Polk County Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT), is currently in training to assist with those cases, as well.
The other three officers who all left earlier this month are Deputy Martin Powell, now with the Keizer Police Department, Deputy Pete Walker, who works for the Marion County Sheriff's Office, and Deputy Patrick McConnell, who joined the Grand Ronde Police Department last week.
Patrol division staffing reductions also included an internal transfer of Deputy Shane Zook to the jail staff.
Anticipating those departures, the sheriff's office has already reduced active patrol hours from 24 per day to 20, running two 10-hour shifts.
A four-hour gap has supervisory staff and Wolfe responding to urgent calls and leaving nonemergency calls for the next shift.
Wolfe said since the reduced hours went into effect March 11, there have been 56 nonurgent calls held over to the next shift. Patrol sergeants or officers from other agencies responded to 31 high-priority calls during that time.
"Even I have responded to a reported physical domestic call and took a person into custody," Wolfe said, noting that high-priority calls require that two officers respond for safety reasons. "We are very concerned about delayed responses and the impact this might have on our citizens."
Wolfe said some nonpriority calls may wait five or six hours before getting a response.
"When the afternoon shift comes in ... the minute they walk through the door, they have calls to respond to," Wolfe said.
With the sheriff's office already patrolling just 20 hours a day, the loss in manpower won't further reduce coverage. But with fewer people to schedule, it could mean vacation time could be limited to save overtime costs. Employees will still be compensated for unused vacation time, but Wolfe said the office can't afford to pay someone vacation and pay someone else to work overtime to cover a shift.
"That is tough for people in this line of work who need to get away from the stress of the job," Wolfe said. "But unfortunately, I've got to have people working."