Monday, January 20, 2014

Rural Oregon Citizens take Ownership of Police Duties - Part Two

Dear Readers,

In part one, we talked about what the Josephine County Sheriff's Office did in response to the voters there voting down a new tax levy.

In my opinion, the drastic action on the part of the Sheriff's department is probably a situation where someone in government is being vindictive because the citizens voted down new taxes - and now they would "get even" by making drastic cuts in an effort to make the citizens feel it.

All in the same way that President Obama tried to show his vindictiveness by unnecessarily closing unsecured open-air national monuments that did not cost the taxpaying public any money.

He did so all as a vindictive act to show the American public that he is King and we are just peasants.

In the case of the Josephine County Sheriff's Office, after the cuts, they released a few very surprising statements.

One announcing their deputies "would only be responding to what they deemed life-threatening situations."

The other told their citizens that they may want to relocate out of the county because the department could not protect them as a result of the cuts.

Josephine County Citizens Step Forward

The citizens of Josephine County have an independent streak that's fairly common in the rural America, and especially in that part of Oregon just north of the California border.

The area was settled during the 1850s gold rush and has a proud tradition of being self-reliant.  Surprising as it might be to some, the residents in that part of Oregon consistently vote Conservative.

The county is filled with the history of the American West. There are abandoned mines, mining camps now overgrown with trees and brush. Besides the small "towns" that dot across the county, there are ranches and farms and logging. In fact, the county still has just one remaining sawmill in operation.

Yes, some folks in Josephine County, which is actually larger than the state of Rhode Island, don't care for the Sheriff Office's attitude and are taking matters into their own hands.

Citizens are now taking over the duties of the County Sheriff's deputies..

Yes, they are in fact stepping forward, strapping on pistols and are volunteering to guard communities themselves.

One such citizen is Sam Nichols, a retired marina manager. He has organized a posse of about a dozen fed-up residents who have started patrolling the small community of O'Brien with its 750 residents.

"I believe in standing up for myself rather than waiting for the government to do something for me," said Sam Nichols, a retired marina manager.

"We call ourselves the CAC Patrol, Citizens Against Crime," he said.

Another CAC Patrol member, Glenn Woodbury, an electrical supplies distributor, wears a .45-caliber automatic pistol in a shoulder holster when he goes out.

He says he carries the weapon only for protection and that members of the patrol consider it their primary responsibility to gather information, such as a license plate number, that would allow deputies to make an arrest.

Since the patrols started a few months ago, group members have reported a wildfire being set and someone trying to break into an SUV. The police log in the Grants Pass Daily Courier shows five thefts or burglaries in O'Brien from January through July, but none since August.

"These people know they no longer own the night," Woodbury said of potential criminals.

"They can't back a pickup up to somebody's home when you've got patrols watching," he added.

At the O'Brien crossroads, a flashing yellow light and a '50s-era police car, parked permanently on the shoulder, slow what passes for traffic in front of the general store, post office, gas station, restaurant, and RV park.

There also is a bar with a sign proclaiming, "Bikers Welcome."

Nichols says he decided to start the patrols after someone stole a travel trailer from his property over the summer.

He called a community meeting in August and wore a .38 special revolver, handed down from his father, in a leather holster on his belt.

About 100 people showed up, one of whom recognized a photo of his trailer and knew where it had been stashed.

Sheriff Gilbertson, however, declined to try to retrieve it.

"I didn't have the resources to deal with it at that time," the sheriff said. "Pretty much, what we're doing now is person-to-person crime."

Taking Ownership When Others Fail To Do So

In response, members of the CAC Patrol have taken to slapping magnetic gold stars and flashing amber lights on their vehicles to keep watch over the community on their own. Many carry pistols and plastic ties for handcuffs.

"If we stand shoulder to shoulder, they don't have a chance," Nichols said. "And that's what we're doing."

Another such citizen is retired law enforcement officer Ken Selig, who was the longest-serving law enforcement officer in all three local agencies when he was forced to retire from the department due to previous cuts.

He told Fox News that he found the Sheriff’s Office press release to be completely unacceptable. So this angry citizen felt compelled to guard his community’s vulnerable members.

“Who else is going to protect you when your government can't?” Selig said.

Selig and his friend Pete Scaglione formed the North Valley Community Watch, a county-wide organization dedicated to helping citizens in non-life-threatening situations, primarily property crimes.

It is important to note that the North Valley Community Watch group is just one of a handful of community groups that have formed since the cuts.

Fact is, without a highly staffed Sheriff's Office, their mission is broader than the typical neighborhood watch group.

Up in Josephine County in Oregon, Mr Selig's community watch group is filling in the law enforcement cracks and now meets once a month to discuss crime and teach its approximately 100 members about personal safety.

Believe it or not, the group also has a trained “response team,” which consists of 12 people who will respond to the scene of a reported non-life-threatening situation if called.

Though the “response team” members do carry legal firearms, Mr Selig said the team’s main goal is to provide a deterrent presence, and that none of them have ever fired a shot.

He said those involved in his group believe there is no substitute for well-trained law enforcement, but they feel they have no other choice but to protect their community.

“We believe responsible citizens doing responsible things make it hard for criminals to do irresponsible things,” he said.

Mr Selig believes politics are behind the county government’s decision to not funnel what funds they do have toward law enforcement.

To show how savvy Mr Selig is, he says the county government seems to be pressuring the citizens to pass an additional tax hike they cannot afford.

“The key is to get the funding somewhere where the local people can get the services they need,” Selig said.

Here's The Difference

The other side as represented by Josephine County Commissioner Keith Heck who said residents of the county that opposed the tax levy need to realize there is no fat to cut.

Heck said the county has tried to live within the bounds of its fiscal realities, but citizens need to realize the options for paying for law enforcement are limited.

"The county coffers are at the bottom of the barrel," he said.

Heck said, though he supports neighborhood watch groups and citizens being vigilant in their community, the rise of increasingly “aggressive” community watch groups make him worried the situation could escalate to violence.

Of course there are no cases of such going on yet, but that doesn't stop the Pro-Bigger Government groups to point out that Neighborhood Watch Groups have been under increasing scrutiny nationally ever since the George Zimmerman case in Florida.

It doesn't matter if George Zimmerman used deadly force against Trayvon Martin who was trying to kill him, the Liberal media has given Sainthood to Martin  - deserved or not.

Referring to Neighborhood Watch Groups stepping forward and taking ownership of the situation, Commissioner Heck threw a jab at the citizens banding together to furnish their own security, by saying, “These things seem good on the PR side but fail a little in the reality side.”

Yet, what the Commissioner failed to mention is that since the citizens have stepped forward and assumed ownership of thier liberties, crime in down because patrols are now being conducted in areas that the local government wrote off as not being critical.

While citizen groups are forming and patrols are up, information is also getting out by way of web posses.  And yes, in many ways, these posses are functioning better than calling 911.   

Web Posse?

While some have put together physical patrols, others citizens have put together a virtual neighborhood watch and uses Facebook to share tips and information.

One retired sheriff's deputy has started a Facebook page called "To Catch a Thief," an open group that has nearly 1,200 members who post reports of crimes that aren't priorities for the county sheriff's office.

"In a rural community like this, we all know each other, and we're all related," said Carol Dickson, who started the group about three months ago and posts regularly.

"People know who's doing this," she said of the property crimes around Cave Junction, a town of nearly 2,000 people about 30 miles from the county seat of Grants Pass.

"They are getting tired of it," Dickson said. "They are speaking up, and they are saying, `Enough!'"

For her part, Dickson, who retired from the Josephine County Sheriff's Office before Sheriff Gilbertson was elected and has frequently been at odds with the man who replaced her old boss, says her digital network has helped make the Illinois Valley safer.

She says her group has tracked down stolen property, including several cars, and even helped deputies arrest a man on drug charges.

Despite her differences with Sheriff Gilbertson, she won't let people post rants about the sheriff's department. And yes, many agree when she says her group serves a vital function.

"When you have tweakers and drugs, you're going to have thefts and burglaries," she said, citing methamphetamine abuse as the root of many of the property crimes in the area.

Dickson says there isn't enough space in the county jail and that deputies don't pursue property crimes as they should.

She said criminals "know they aren't going to get punished." She added, "Nobody gets arrested. Nobody gets charged."

So What Do The Police Say?

Remember, Josephine County has a population about 83,000, recently lost $12 million in federal timber county subsidies.

The jail, sheriff's patrols, prosecutors, probation officers and juvenile programs have all been cut. Cuts that the county were sure that the citizens would remedy with even more taxes.

County lockup has room for 69 inmates – only enough space for the worst offenders. As a result, theft and burglary suspects are regularly turned loose, supposedly only to be picked up later for new crimes.

Detractors of the citizen posses say that is a result of voting no for higher taxes and citizens doing the job of deputies.

Supporters say that's higher taxes are just legalized extortion, and it is taking ownership of their security was just a logical step to alleviate crime.

Besides, those wanting more taxes are trying to make the situation - both before and after the cuts as it was not. 

For example, reports have it that there was a revolving door at the jail long before the cuts ever took effect - definitely before the citizens stepped forward to take ownership of the situation.

Can Citizens Do The Job? 

It might just turn out to better security coverage than simply depending on the police for everything.

Nichols nor Dickson doesn't think the sheriff would do a better job of protecting their end of the county with more resources. And from reports up there, they are right.

They both voted no on a tax proposal to make up the $12 million loss and say they would do so again if county commissioners brought the issue back up.

Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says he's glad for the help but warns that law enforcement is dangerous work.

"They need to really understand there are consequences that can be very costly, physically as well as legally," he said, explaining that volunteers could get sued or shot if they pull a gun on someone or make a false arrest.

"Most of them haven't had what I feel is an adequate level of training to do that they do," he said. "But if they serve as eyes and ears and only report what they see to law enforcement, I think they can keep themselves at a safe level."

And yes, I'd say that's fairly magnanimous for a man who told folks to flee the county!

One policing expert Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says neighborhood watch efforts can be positive but turn into problems when volunteers "decide that instead of supplementing law enforcement, they are going to replace law enforcement. Then you cross potentially into vigilantism."

Kenney said vigilantes tend to get "out of control – especially when people are armed."

He added that "people drawn to this sort of thing are the kinds of personalities more likely to take it too far."

Besides that rural area being nothing like New York City, Nichols who started CAC says what his group is doing is "not vigilantism at all."

"If it was, we would have taken care of a couple of problems a long time ago," he added. "Because we knew who they were, and where they lived."

What Kenney fails to mention is the historical significance of citizens "replacing law enforcement."

Before there were organized law enforcement agencies, citizens took care of things themselves.

For hundreds of years before the advent of organized Police Departments in the United States, it was up to the citizenry to provide for their own security.

Organized police departments did not really exist in the United States until the early 1820s, a little less than two hundred years ago.

I know someone will write to tell me about the Roman Centurions and so on, but in reality most security in ancient times were conducted by their military.

The citizenry, through either obligatory service or volunteerism ensured the security for most for hundreds of years - especially in smaller villages and towns of no military importance and subsequently no military presence.

Unlike people in cities like San Francisco or Seattle, the citizens of Josephine County Oregon are rural independent folks who are not used to depending on the government for much more than being a pain in the rump.

They fend for themselves and wouldn't think twice about policing themselves.

When the cuts took place, the residents there did exactly that and decided to take matters into their own hands by creating Neighborhood Watch and Citizen Watch groups - including armed patrols.

Yes there is an angst on the part of County Officials.

Like it or not, these citizens groups are doing the job in direct defiance of local officials.

Government authorities are spending a lot of their time and money in an effort to spread the false story that the decision of the citizenry to take ownership of their own security has raised safety concerns.

And yes, the county government would prefer residents instead hike their own taxes to fund the hiring of trained deputies.

While the county authorities voice dire consequences to citizens providing their own security, such as, "despite the risks, the move stands as a unique, some would say innovative, response to one of the country's most severe local budget crunches."

So what has been the motivation for citizens to take things into their own hands?

Historically, since the establishment of organized police departments, citizen groups have taken over the policing of their towns, cities, or counties, for only a few reasons:

1) when crime is so rampant and there is not enough paid law enforcement to do the job, 2) when the police are so corrupt that the lawlessness is part of the city or county government, 3) when city or county government is so corrupt that their is no law enforcement to handle the problem, or 4) when the economy demands changes because of cuts to services and some sort of supplementation such as volunteerism is required.

Whether it's citizens taking it upon themselves to mow the lawns around city hall, or supplement cross-guards or bus drivers or a local fire departments by including more volunteer fire-fighters, it is nothing new for citizens to step forward and assume the jobs that need to be done when fiscal cuts are made.

It has been my experience that during great economic times people don't mind putting out more money, but during hard times of high unemployment and raising prices both at the gas pump and the grocery shelves - all of our pennies are looked at.

Because the unemployment rate in Josephine County Oregon is well above 10%, I'm not surprised that they do not want their taxes raised to pay for more officers - especially when it is unjustified because crime is down and there are citizens who are experienced to help organize and conduct security without the police.

The Local Government Is Threatened

Typical of most County Officials who see higher taxes as the only solution to problems, Mr Heck said the only real solution is for the county citizens to approve more funds through higher property taxes.

Using a Christmas analogy, Heck went on to say, "There is this little shimmer out there of some giant Santa that is going to come and drop all this money on us because we are well-meaning folks. The sleigh is broken, the deer are dead, it’s not going to happen. We have to figure out how we are going to solve this problem."

That's Code for: We want more of your money, like it or not.

And no, guys like Heck don't usually spend a lot of time looking for places to cut waste or stop the program that has been a sink hole for taxpayer dollars.

They usually shoot for the easy target of raising taxes and taking taxpayer money. And please, please don't kid yourself - we are all taxpayers in one way or another.

And yes, while Mr Heck may be taken as being very clever with his use of saying that Santa is not coming to the county's rescue with more tax dollars from others - it's too bad that Mr Heck did not use the other Christmas analogy.

He should have made reference to the fact that when Joseph and Mary were informed that that there was no room at the inn - that they did not simply give up looking for options.

Instead, looking for a place to rest, they settled on less luxurious accommodations and settled on what some would consider horrible conditions.

I don't know anyone who couldn't use more money for this or that. We'd all love to afford what we cannot.

Like most of us who cannot simply ask others to simply raise our salaries and income, or simply raise the level of our retirement, or get others to simply deposit more money in our savings, cities and counties across America have to live within their means.

Why do people like Keith Heck always see raising taxes as the only solution?

Voters are tired of constantly being asked for more tax money to pay for outrageous salaries, unnecessary equipment, huge ridiculous retirement packages, and government waste - then have guys like Heck say the voters need to approve more funds.

Government bureaucrats hate it when citizens like Nichols and Selig and others create solutions without raising taxes.

In this case by forming volunteer security organizations like neighborhood watch groups which are really no different than volunteer fire departments and other citizen's groups to fill the purpose.

So why would Government Bureaucrats hate seeing citizens step forward?

It is because they don't like the taxpayers seeing that those programs or people or agency was really not that important in the bigger scheme of things.

Government hates it when citizens learn that the Government is not needed.

Government services are not needed when it becomes too expensive to keep. When government is so expensive that its citizens suffer at the cost of keeping government employees sitting pretty, government services may have to be curtailed.

As in the case of law enforcement and fire, citizens can come together to find out just how little they really need the government.

Citizens can provide their own "essential services" - especially when it comes with a heavy price tag of legalized extortion by way of higher taxes.

Either way, taxes or extortion, it is a price tag that more and more Americans simply can't afford. And in response, yes, they are taking ownership of their own services including security.

Tom Correa

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