Contract is vital to law enforcement
Last updated 1/24/2023 at Noon
Knowing the community you are working in on an intimate basis makes a big difference in law enforcement.
That was the message that came across loud and clear in a two-night Citizens Academy open house hosted by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) at the Sisters Fire District Community Hall on Wednesday and Thursday, January 18-19.
Between 30 and 40 citizens turned out each night to get to know local deputies and to get a glimpse at how the DCSO operates. Everyone attending, from Sheriff Shane Nelson to the individual deputies assigned here, say that operations in Sisters have been materially enhanced by the $711,200 annual contract agreed between the City of Sisters and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office in March of 2020. The contract allows for a DCSO lieutenant and three deputies to be stationed in Sisters. City staff interacts directly with Lt. Chad Davis, who reports to the sheriff. The deputies are all assigned full-time to Sisters, rather than a variety of deputies rotating through the station.
The DCSO patrol vehicles all carry the City of Sisters logo to foster that community identity.
The contract has, in effect, provided Sisters with its own police force at a fraction of the cost of actually forming a police department, with the requirement to hire and train staff, purchase vehicles and equipment, and manage human resources. More importantly, it has, as all the deputies acknowledge, given DCSO the scope to proved better service.
“That consistent piece (having a set cadre of deputies in town) has made us way more effective,” Lt. Davis said. “We know people by their first names. We know the names of their dogs.”
That allows them to identify and work through issues, often before they escalate into more serious law enforcement matters. That can range from traffic issues to disputes to trespassing — all the way up to more serious crimes like the burglary that occurred last week (see story, page 1).
Increased presence has allowed deputies to address the top concern of Sisters residents as identified in a couple of community surveys conducted by the City of Sisters: traffic safety. In some cases, increased presence has been a literal life-saver. Deputy Brian Morris related how deputies were able to aid a driver who had had a heart attack at the wheel and crashed into the stallion statue on Cascade Avenue. Deputies were near enough at hand that they were able to render CPR while medics responded to the scene. The driver survived.
Deputy Mike Hudson was just around the corner when a medical call came in from a business owner who had fallen and cut himself badly while working in his place of business. Hudson responded within moments and applied a tourniquet to a wound that could have easily been fatal.
More consistent engagement with the public has also reaped rewards. Deputy Josh Westfall related an incident in which a man having a mental health crisis approached him belligerently and threateningly. Such incidents can’t always be resolved gently, and they sometimes end badly.
Deputy Westfall was able to de-escalate the situation — which he credits to having had multiple opportunities to interact with the subject when he was in a better state.
“I could only do that because I knew who he was, because I had that relationship with him,” Deputy Westfall said.
Sheriff Shane Nelson emphasizes “customer service,” and says that he and the command staff promote a culture where deputies treat members of the public the way they would want their family members to be treated. The Sisters deputies endeavor to embody that ethic.
Sheriff Nelson praised what he described as “an exceptional contract” that is beneficial to the residents and government of the City of Sisters, the citizens of the western part of Deschutes County, and DCSO itself.
Deputy Hudson said that he really loves working in Sisters. He patrols town in a distinctive black-and-white truck.
“I love this town,” he said. “It’s a fun place to patrol; it’s a fun place to work.”
He enjoys engaging with the public while on patrol.
“I always try to have my window down, rain or shine, unless it’s a torrential downpour,” he said.
Deputy Brent Crosswhite is the Sisters School Resource Deputy. Crosswhite’s position lies outside the contract, but he is a vital member of the DCSO’s Sisters team. He described his role in the schools, where he works with staff and students to promote a safe school environment, addressing issues of bullying, drug use, online safety and related matters. Crosswhite serves on a threat assessment team that can intervene in situations where a potential threat of violent action is present.
In addition to a close look at how the DCSO contract operates in Sisters, citizens were briefed on county-wide operations and got a look at some of the technology and equipment DCSO uses. That included Detective Slater’s presentation on a 360-degree laser scanner that produces 3D models of a crime scene, and a look at SWAT equipment and doctrine.
The current Sisters contract does not provide 24/seven coverage, although there is a west county deputy on duty in the hours when the contracted deputies are off. Sheriff Nelson has told The Nugget that if Sisters wants to expand its law enforcement capacity as the community grows, he is open to that discussion.
He noted at the open house that law enforcement agencies continue to struggle with recruitment as interest in the field has diminished in the face of negative public perception.
However, all the personnel on hand over the six hours of the Citizens Academy made it clear that they love their work and appreciate the communities they serve.