Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley is hoping to get his department to 24/7 coverage—a feat only the St. Helens Police Department has accomplished within the county.
In November, Pixley first brought his proposal to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
"The Sheriff's Office has been chronically underfunded and understaffed for several, several years. And it's time that we need to make this change. We need to work together to make this change," Pixley told the commissioners.
"For the residents, what this low funding means is slow response times, even in the most urgent situations, (and) spotty patrol coverage," Pixley explained. "For the county, this contributes to higher liability for the county, and severe deputy burnout."
24/7 coverage goal
Within the county, the sheriff’s department is second in highest coverage only to St. Helens, where the department is seeking competitive coverage and rates with the Portland Metro area.
During his presentation, Pixley cited the department’s calls for service stats, saying the department averages 1,510 annual calls for service per deputy—nearly double the calls per service received in local city departments.
Pixley is hoping to get clearance to hire four more deputies, which would bring the Sheriff’s Office from 17.5 hours of coverage a day to 21 or 22 hours of coverage a day. If he hires two deputies in the future, in addition to the four he is proposing to hire now, the Sheriff's Office would be able to provide 24/7 coverage, Pixley said.
Pixley plans to fund the new hires through five year intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with the Port of Columbia County and Vernonia that would have the two entities paying part of the cost for the deputies. The IGAs are only drafts currently and neither Port of Columbia County or Vernonia have agreed to the IGAs as of yet.
To make the transition swift for the new hires, Pixley plans to hire one new recruit and two to three laterals (already sworn officers and graduates of the police academy).
“If we were able to hire a lateral, we would not have to send them to the 16 week Police Academy, and typically we don't have to do the four months field training evaluation process program with them,” Pixley explained during the commissioners meeting on Wednesday.
By hiring lateral officers, the Sheriff’s Office would save money on their hires and expedite the process to getting the officers on their own in the field, Pixley said.
Pixley stressed that increasing the Sheriff’s Office’s coverage is important because there is a large gap in public safety between the county's cities and unincorporated areas. The Sheriff's Office covers unincorporated Columbia County and the cities of Clatskanie and Prescott, which is equal to 97.5% of the county's land but holds less than half of the county’s population.
Though the Sheriff's Office has the equivalent of more than 55 full-time employees, only 12 of those employees are deputies that work on patrol, according to Pixley.
"I understand it is unrealistic to ask for the 26 additional patrol staff this fiscal year, or even over the next couple of years," Pixley wrote in a prior letter to county commissioners. "Instead, I propose the county add funding to equal two deputies per year until we are at a safer and more sustainable level."
The commissioners are reviewing the sheriff’s request.
Following the Wednesday work session, Pixley told The Chief eight additional deputies would cost between $710,984 and $1,005,256 per year, plus the one-time costs associated with fully outfitting the new deputies. Pixley said funding would come from the Columbia County general fund and by collaborating with community partners to provide additional funding.
Follow this developing story at thechiefnews.com and in the Friday print editions of The Chief.