By DAMIAN MANN
Josh Reimer was heading home to the Grants Pass area two weeks ago when he heard Oregon State Police troopers pleading for backup for a possible confrontation with an armed suspect holed up inside a house during a burglary.
The Medford police detective sergeant heard the troopers say no Josephine County Sheriff's Department deputies were on duty.
He rolled up to the scene in his detective car, flashing his headlights so the troopers realized he was a cop.
"I asked them if they needed help, and they said, yeah,' " he recalled.
Reimer and other law enforcement officers are discovering the spillover effect that the massive cuts in the Josephine County Sheriff's Department are having on the region.
With only three deputies to patrol the county, other law enforcement agencies may be called in for assistance, particularly the police in Grants Pass and the Oregon State Police.
Medford police headed over the border on June 3, recovered $70,000 worth of stolen equipment in Wolf Creek and arrested 34-year-old Sky Anthony Shipman. The bust helped resolve stolen equipment cases in Jackson, Klamath, Josephine and Douglas counties.
In the case of the armed burglar, a neighbor had apparently scared him off before the troopers arrived, so Reimer didn't have to deal with a potentially violent situation.
OSP Lt. Kelly Collins said the situation in Josephine County places troopers in the uncomfortable position of making a decision to respond to one of two potentially life-threatening calls. For example, troopers might have to choose between dealing with a domestic violence call or a report of a serious drunk driver.
"We're being forced to make decisions we really don't want to make," Collins said. "We flat out don't have the staffing to deal with the call load."
Even so, troopers are responding to a significant increase in calls within Josephine County that they wouldn't have responded to previously, Collins said.
With manpower already stretched thin, troopers have enough to deal with patrolling Interstate 5 and Highway 199.
"We don't want the public to perceive we're trying to do the job of the sheriff's office," he said.
Medford police Chief Tim George said he sympathizes with the OSP because it has faced cutbacks in recent years.
His department will not respond to crimes in Josephine County unless the criminal activity originated in Jackson County, he said.
"We're going to chase the case," George said.
Medford Deputy Chief Tim Doney said Klamath, Curry, Josephine and Lane counties are cutting back on law enforcement, which will likely increase criminal activity in Jackson County.
"Criminals don't stop at the border," he said. "We certainly have concerns about the lack of law enforcement in all the adjacent counties."
Doney said that over the years, crimes have been committed in Jackson County and crooks have tried to flee to neighboring counties.
"Even when times were better, the lack of law enforcement over there was a problem," he said.
Sheriff Mike Winters said his deputies have so far stayed out of Josephine County.
"It there are officers who need backup or are in harm's way, we will dispatch a unit to assist the OSP," he said. "We are not going to handle day-to-day cases."
If there are homicides in Josephine County, Winters will send deputies to assist in the investigation.
Search-and-rescue operations are another exception that pulls in law enforcement agencies from surrounding counties, he said. "We don't want to see anybody lose their life," he said.
But criminals who think they can run into Jackson County, then scurry back to the safety of Josephine County had better think again, Winters said.
"We will track them down and bring them back over here," he said. "The best thing they can do is stay in Josephine County."
Winters said Josephine County residents don't realize how detrimental the lack of law enforcement ultimately will be.
"People will not want to live in a county where there is no law enforcement," he said. "People are looking for good schools, law enforcement and access to good medical facilities. It you let that infrastructure go, everybody who owns homes can watch as their land values go down."
Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said he's seen an increase in burglaries since the cutbacks this spring.
"Crime is starting to pick up," he said.
Gilbertson said he's fully aware that the OSP has started taking many of the calls his deputies handled previously.
"Part of my dilemma when the OSP is taking these calls is that I have no idea what's happening in my county during the hours we're not on duty," he said.
Many residents of the county think they can take the law into their own hands, Gilbertson said, but he said it will take some time before these residents realize how bad it could be.
News that $100 million in federal timber money may flow into Oregon was welcome news to Gilbertson.
He said he's heard that his county's share could be anywhere from $250,000 to $4 million.
Whether there will be enough money to add deputies back is debatable, since Gilbertson anticipates more cutbacks in his department next year.
To cut down on expenses, the sheriff has moved his headquarters out of the county courthouse and into the jail.
He said it will be up to Josephine County commissioners to decide how to disperse the money.
"They may elect to hold the money in reserve, or shore up what we've got right now," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.