By Noelle Crombie The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon State Police superintendent is already making plans to ask lawmakers next year for money to pay for more troopers as part of an estimated $64 million proposal to put more cops on the state’s highways over the next decade.
Superintendent Travis Hampton said this week he’ll ask the Legislature in the 2019 session to sign off on the long-range plan that would increase the number of troopers per 100,000 Oregonians, from 8 to 15.
In total, the proposal could mean more than 200 troopers and another 40 sergeants.
The additional hires, Hampton said, would put patrol staffing in the middle of the pack with state police agencies nationwide.
An analysis by his agency concluded that its ranks are second to the last in patrol staffing.
“Every system has a breaking point and our toes are at that line now,” Hampton said.
Hampton said his agency in its current budget got $6.2 million for 20 new positions, including three detectives and two sergeants dedicated to marijuana enforcement. But at the same time, he said, the agency saw $11.8 million in overall cuts, mostly to the patrol division.
Patrolling highways and responding to crashes and emergencies on the roads is a major component of the state police, making up about 40 percent of the agency’s budget.
State police officials have for years complained about dwindling patrol resources, but Hampton said the decline has reached a critical point as the number of licensed drivers in Oregon has risen.
Over time, according to state police statistics, the number of fatal wrecks has gone up, particularly on secondary highways; the state already has seen a 17 percent spike in fatalities so far this year compared to 2017.
Hampton said the drop in patrol staffing has had a range of implications, from fewer cops on highways and secondary routes to a growing number of unanswered calls for help.
Last year, the agency didn’t get to a record 11,880 calls for service — everything from drunken driving complaints and disabled vehicle calls to responding to requests for help from other police agencies, he said.
“It’s a laughing stock if it was not so serious,” Hampton said.
House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, said it’s early to talk specifics — the budget won’t be considered until next year — but she said she generally supports Hampton’s request.
She said the agency isn’t likely to see a return to its relatively high staffing levels of decades past, but she acknowledged that the state police budget has been depleted.
“There is a need for this,” she said. “It’s time to really get more troopers and more cars on the road. The lack of coverage on I-5 and other major thoroughfares in the state is, I would say, alarming.”
Hampton pointed to rural Josephine County as a particular drain on the agency.
For years, the unincorporated areas of the county have had an anemic local law enforcement presence, the result of a general lack of support for public safety levies.
State police have picked up the slack, said Hampton, who assigned 16 patrol troopers, a pair of sergeants and a lieutenant to the area.
That’s twice the patrol resources the agency would typically send to an area with a similar population, he said.
©2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)