POLK COUNTY — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office will return to 24-hour patrols on Sunday after a year of hiring to replace deputies lost to budget cuts.
“We’ve hired 29 people altogether between the jail and patrol,” said Sheriff Mark Garton.
The public safety levy voters approved in May 2015 provided for 12 positions in patrol and five in the jail, but Garton said a “slew” of departures left the department with a lot more hiring than anticipated.
“That is all we’ve been doing, essentially, since last July 1,” Garton said. “It’s a long process.”
The office graduated four officers from the police academy last week, making it possible to switch to two 12-hour shifts per day starting Sunday. Three more officers were sent to the academy last week and a few more will attend later in the year.
“It’s like a big chess game trying to put everybody in the right spot to get to where we are to be able to do 24-hour coverage,” Garton said. “We’ve hired good people. We’ve been fortunate. There’s a lot agencies that are having trouble all over the state hiring people and finding good people. We haven’t had any issue.”
Sunday will be the first time the sheriff’s office has had someone on duty 24 hours per day in more than three years.
Patrols were first cut to 20 hours per day in March 2013 due to funding shortages. Hours were subsequently reduced to 10 hours per day.
With hiring and training in full swing since July 2015, 20-hour per day patrols were restored in January.
Deputies in the patrol division say they are eager to see “off hours” disappear soon.
Deputy Jason Ball has been with the sheriff’s department for about a year. He said it’s been difficult knowing the office hasn’t been able to respond to all calls that come in, and he is glad that is changing.
“It’s a huge benefit, just to be able to provide that service to the community,” Ball said. “We still get a lot of calls in those off hours. Every call is important. We want to respond.”
Full patrol hours isn’t the only thing returning.
In early July, the Polk Interagency Narcotics Team (POINT) will be reinstated with investigators from the sheriff’s office, Dallas, Monmouth, Independence police departments, and eventually Oregon State Police.
Polk Sgt. Mike Holsapple will supervise the team, which will have officers who are new to working on a drug enforcement team. Holsapple is the only exception.
“He’s been running the team for years, so he can get those guys up to speed and do it the right way,” Garton said.
He said the team won’t have a shortage of work to do, as drug complaints around the county remain high.
“They will hit the ground running,” Garton said.
Also in July, the sheriff’s office will pair up with Polk County Behavioral Health to provide one of two “mobile crisis” teams patrolling in Polk County.
The teams will consist of an officer and crisis counselor who can respond to calls involving incidents more related to mental health than criminal behavior.
County officials said the hope is to get people in crisis assistance sooner and without having to take them to jail.
Yet another function of the office has been restored recently.
Staff in the Polk County Jail has rebounded to the point where court security has been increased, answering a request of Polk County Circuit Court judges and attorneys.
Two deputies have been assigned to court room security and overseeing inmate transports.
Garton said the office will still be training its new officers for the foreseeable future, but he’s pleased to provide what was promised in the levy campaign.
“To do it all in a year, to get back from where we were to here, I’m grateful that we were able to do that,” he said.