FIND WAYS TO RESTORE OREGON STATE POLICE
Jan. 31 will be remembered as Black Friday by the 219 individuals who had decided that there was no nobler calling than to work for the Oregon State Police. Instead every one of these dedicated and hard-working souls was dismissed because the Oregon Legislature had failed to properly fund the 72-year-old agency that is responsible for keeping the state's thousands of miles of highways safe.
WE CANNOT LAY the blame at the feet of the freshmen legislators who were elected in November to represent their home districts in Salem, but instead on those who stayed in office over the past two decades. We also lay the blame at the feet of countless governors who did little if anything to find a lasting funding source so that the state police would be able to build its ranks in order to do the job the public expects.
Oregon's state police not only watch over our highways but provide almost all the forensic work for every police department in Oregon through a number of labs scattered across the state. They were involved in task forces at the local level to work to eradicate drug trafficking and were often depended upon to provide leadership in murder cases.
THE SITUATION that eroded the funding for the state police is the same one that gutted numerous other state agencies. Some legislators like Sen. Randy Miller, R- Lake Oswego, and Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, may think that there is too much fat in state government and in some cases they are right. But it's not true of the state police. Their witch-hunts against the Oregon Department of Transportation and the state Public Employees Retirement System has swayed citizens to vote down the best parts of government.
Oregon does have too posh a prison system, which ranks toward the top of the national average for expense. We lay the blame at the feet of former legislators Marilyn Shannon, Stan Bunn and others who lacked true creativity and leadership when it came to showing how to reduce waste and find solid funding for seniors and police services. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber wasted state police troopers' valuable time doing duty on Portland's mass transit system, when instead he should have followed through with his promises to fund more state troopers.
WE NEED LEADERSHIP from Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, Rep. Karen Minnis, R-Gresham, Sen. Kate Brown, D-Portland, and Sen. Bev Clarno, R-Redmond, to find long-term funding to restore the state police to a department that is among the nation's elite. If the funding comes from a tax on auto insurance or an increase in the vehicle registration fee, so be it. If it means changing the state constitution, then do it.
For the safety of all Oregonians and out of respect for the thousands who have served as state troopers over the past 72 years, our legislators must stop talking about the problem and work to solve the funding issue once and for all.