News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Law enforcement in ‘Old Sisters’

As the City of Sisters works out how best to provide law-enforcement services as the community grows and changes, the idea of creating a municipal police force returns to the fore.

Sisters has been there before.

The city of Sisters was originally platted in 1901, but the citizens didn’t approve incorporation until 1946 (vote was 115 for, 61 against).

According to the Deschutes Pioneer Gazette, quoting Alvin Cyrus, one of the early buildings in town was a one-person jail. Longtime Sisters resident the late Homer Shaw said Sisters made it into “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” for having the only known jail that never housed a prisoner. The tiny jail was constructed out of 2-by-6 boards with a door fashioned by town blacksmith Hardy Allen out of spokes from old iron buggy wheels. Shaw reported that “kids used to play in it, and there was one old guy who kept his horses in there during the winter.”

Following the end of World War II, Sisters began a period of transition. The 1946 incorporation vote was followed by the hiring of Sisters’ first police chief in 1949. Idaho native Fred Painter had been employed by the Bend Police Department in 1945 and was recommended by the Oregon State Patrol (OSP) as a capable law-enforcement professional when the Sisters City Council began looking.

Painter assumed the duties of chief in April 1949. His job also included serving as the head of the town’s water and road departments, duties now performed by City Public Works Director Paul Bertagna. Painter also served as water master for three months of every year. Being a one-man department, Painter was kept busy.

“The two saloons in town kept me hopping,” he said.

During Painter’s 14-year tenure, there were eight sawmills right around Sisters, and the mill workers and loggers all came to Sisters to party. Floyd Leithauser, who grew up in Sisters, remembers driving through town on the way to church on Sunday morning and seeing saloon windows broken the night before being covered with plywood which was kept on premises at all times. Chief Painter’s job was to restore some sense of peace and order to the town. He often relied on townspeople to help him.

In an interview in the 1990s, Painter recalled, “They had illegal gambling and everything here. While there was no prostitution here, there was one woman who came through from Baker wanting to go into business, but I told her ‘the town was too small.’”

Painter was known for his good relationships with the younger community members who were wont to gather on the porch of his home on Washington Avenue if a situation needed to be worked out among them.

Gerry Tewalt remembers one Halloween when the chief gave him a ride in his patrol car, pulling over other teens so Tewalt could shower them with water balloons through the open window of the car.

In earlier times, the weeks around the Sisters Rodeo often included a variety of “public disturbances.” Painter was given permission to temporarily hire some police officers from Bend and Redmond to help him with keeping the peace during rodeo time. If needed, he could also call on the state police.

After being the chief in Sisters, Painter rounded out his career in law enforcement with the Corrections Department of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO). He was followed by a succession of chiefs and patrolmen. Chiefs included Bob Dent, Jim France, Mike “Moon” Mullins, John McMurran, David Haynes, and Rich Shawver. Former Public Works Director Gary Frazee served as one of four-to-six reserve members of the force and still has his uniform.

Most of their department vehicles were purchased used from the OSP at bargain prices. There was a lot of excitement when a new white Jeep Cherokee 4 x 4 was purchased. It came with a special police package and was good in snow conditions. There was also a 1988 Kawasaki 1000 Police Special motorcycle purchased from the Salem Police Department. For less than $500, the motorcycle came with a helmet and modified uniform. It brought the police closer to the public as people would come up and talk to the officer. Mountain bikes were ridden by reserve and volunteer officers. The bikes and motorcycle were easier to maneuver in Sisters traffic.

The police personnel didn’t have a contract with the City. Rather, they operated under guidelines in a City personnel manual. The police began looking at organizing two months after City Manager Barbara Warren and Chief Haynes disagreed about overtime and vacation pay.

With a $60,000 shortfall in the City budget, there was discussion about police layoffs.

Haynes had asked for $7,000 in overtime pay for his officers.

Instead, Warren offered compensatory time off which led Haynes to claim that Warren intended to countermand his authorization of overtime pay, which would cause him to violate City policy and wage and hour laws.

Haynes quit in anger, turning in his badge and tendering his resignation.

He later returned police uniforms and his patrol car.

When he cooled down and requested his job back, it was granted, but the following May he was given the opportunity to resign, which he refused, and so was fired.

Shawver, who had been a lieutenant on the Sisters force, became the last Sisters police chief before DCSO took over.

During Haynes’ time as chief, crime in Sisters included a variety of more serious incidents, including an arson fire in November 1991 in the Gallery Annex (The Paper Place, Hen’s Tooth and Something Special Gifts). Haynes was asked to do something to clean up drug trafficking in Sisters. After a three-month undercover investigation, a large drug raid saw 42 officers from various agencies with seven search warrants making 10 arrests resulting in 41 indictments charging 11 people with drug sales, and illegal payoffs on video poker machines. Six homes (one in Bend) and one Sisters business (Yukon Jack’s) were raided.

Hayne’s quote after the raid was characteristically blunt: “I think this raid will have some impact. If you are going to make illegal drugs part of your lifestyle or business, it will be our business. If you are going to be involved, then we are going to be involved with you.”

Deschutes County Sheriff Greg Brown proposed merging Sisters’ police services with the sheriff’s department to the City Council. He purported that the DCSO could provide the same or a greater level of service for the City for less money, which was attractive due to the budget shortfall in the City. The police ­department’s relationship with the City had been rocky for the previous year. The department had been unionized, and the City had never dealt with union issues. The Council proposed convening a Citizens Advisory Committee to study the matter but, in the end, the Council took the issue on and made the decision themselves.

When the Sisters Police Department was disbanded in 1999, the vehicles and personnel were absorbed into the DCSO. The white Jeep Cherokee was among the vehicles given to the county. City Manager Cory Misley reports that it ended up in La?Pine, where it was ­eventually stolen out of the parking lot.

For 20 years, law enforcement has been provided by the patrol personnel of the DCSO through a contract between the City and the sheriff’s office. The most recent three-year contract expires in June 2020 and the City is currently negotiating a new contract for increased services and personnel.


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