OSP CUTS WALLOWA TROOPERS

September 11, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Barring "any responsible action by the Legislature," in Gov. John Kitzhaber's words, the Oregon State Police will cut 130 state trooper positions by Oct. 1.

One result would be no OSP presence in Wallowa County, said Lt. Reg Madsen of the La Grande office.

The Enterprise outpost in Wallowa County is under the command of the La Grande OSP office.

La Grande would lose one trooper, he said.

"This will decimate the Enterprise office," Madsen said.

"It will mean our response time, our ability to back up the county sheriff will be ineffective, Madsen said.

"It will be extremely hard for us to have a trooper on the road in Wallowa County. It will be extremely tough," Madsen said.

"We are already at a minimal acceptable level of patrols," he said.

The governor gave the Legislature, meeting in its fifth special session of the year, until Friday to come up with a plan to make up for $482 million in the state budget's shortfall or he will begin making the cuts.

The governor said he would close four regional juvenile corrections centers by early 2003 but did not say which ones.

Police cuts would be on a seniority basis statewide, according to Lt. Glenn Chastain at OSP headquarters in Salem. This will result in the shifting of some personnel into areas that otherwise might be left with no coverage.

Statewide, Madsen said, "There has been tremendous growth in the number of registered vehicles, the number of licensed drivers and the population."

OSP hit hard over two decades

He added, "In the last 23 years, we have lost 40 percent of our road troopers. To now be able to provide the level of service Oregonians have come to expect is unrealistic."

One good thing, Madsen said, was that no fish and wildlife officers would be lost locally.

"Our wildlife people here are senior enough that they won't be cut," Madsen said.

The state offices of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that more than five wildlife officers statewide have received layoff notices.

The 131 police troopers to be laid off by the OSP amount to 17 percent of the department's statewide workforce. If the layoffs occur, that will leave 323 troopers to patrol the nation's 10th largest state. That compares to 655 in 1980.

The head of OSP, Superintendent Ronald C. Ruecker, issued a statement saying the layoffs "effectively dismantle the Oregon State Police. It's getting very difficult to look these men and women in the eye and ask them to put themselves in harm's way."

Besides the officers, the governor plans to lay off 29 professional OSP employees who support troopers in the field.

Ruecker said at least two of the state's crime labs will be closed, OSP would withdraw from participation in major crime teams and interagency drug task forces and reduce OSP participation in federal task forces targeting fugitives and terrorism. He said detectives would be reassigned to patrol.

Since 1990, 10 patrol offices have been closed because of previous budget cuts.