BAKER CITY — Amid a shortage of officers, Baker City Police Chief Ty Duby says he plans to cut back on 24-hour-patrols around town.
Duby made the announcement to the city council during its meeting on Tuesday, November 14.
More specifically, he says the plan is to not have patrols during a four-or five-hour period in the early morning, most likely 2:00am to 6:00am or 3:00am to 7:00am. Police will continue to respond to certain calls during that period, such as crimes against a person in progress.
“We’ve operated at bare minimum staffing for a while now, but we’ve always prided ourselves with maintaining 24-hour coverage. But there’s a price that comes with that,” said Duby.
Duby says his department is currently down two officers, which means the department is left with six patrol officers and two sergeants. The department currently employs a 12-hour shift schedule, which allows around-the-clock patrols.
“That’s three patrol officers and one sergeant for each patrol. If an officer is sick or is on vacation, we have to pull an officer from the other patrol team and cover that shift. It creates a lot of overtime,” said Duby. “When you ask an officer to come in and cover a patrol shift that goes from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. that is a difficult, difficult move. To put on that patrol uniform and patrol belt and go to work for a 12 hour shift is hard.”
He says one idea to mitigate strain on officers is moving to 10 hour shifts, four days a week. He says that could make it easier for officers to cover shifts. He said 10-hour work days will also make it easier to coordinate training sessions with Oregon State Police and the Baker County Sheriff’s Office without incurring extra costs.
As for ending 24-hour coverage, Duby says those early morning hours are a slow time for calls and that the majority of calls don’t require an immediate police response.
“There’s the argument that when there’s a time when cops are not on the street then, then all hell is going to break loose, right? Every criminal is going know there’s no cops on the street. But there’s lots of studies out that says that’s really not the case,” said Duby.
Duby said police will not respond to certain property crimes, or other reports, during the four-hour period. He says a police supervisor will be on duty at all times, and if a call from dispatch involves certain crimes in progress, such as an assault, the supervisor can assign an officer to respond.
“There’s going to be a time period where there might not be officers out there, but when calls come in we will respond if it’s something that needs to be responded to,” says Duby.
Chief Duby also expressed concerns about retaining officers in the face of competitive opportunities in other agencies and stressed the importance of prioritizing law enforcement within the city.
“When you have as much instability with the past city council and what’s been going on in this city for the last two years, it has led to officers leaving. Many other law enforcement agencies are well funded and paying more than the Baker City PD,” says Duby. “My people have told me if this city council and this city doesn’t somehow fund law enforcement and prioritize it, why would you as a patrol officer stick around and wait to see what happens?”
The city budget for the current fiscal year, which began in July 2023, covers the department to fund 15 officers. But according to a projection from the city, the budget for the next fiscal year that begins in July 0f 2024 faces a nearly $1 million shortfall.
The city council in August approved a public safety fee, which took effect on October 1, that applies a monthly fee of $15 per month for residential customers and $50 per month for commercial customers on water and sewer bills. The fee is estimated by Interim City Manager Jon France to raise about $1 million a year in funds for the police and fire departments.
During the council meeting on November 14, the new city council voted to temporarily suspend the public safety fee. The council says it wants to hold two public town halls during December and then reassess the fee, along with other potential revenue sources, in January.
“I would love to be able to provide 24-7 coverage. I think that is ideal but until the citizens, and the council figures out how they want to fund that, we’re just gonna do the best we can do,” says Duby.
The chief says any resident of Baker with questions or concerns about the new hours and patrols are invited to call him or stop by the police department to discuss their worries.