A rural community in Josephine County, Oregon has had to reduce its public safety budget, relying on citizens to deter criminal activity.
This year, the small Southwestern Oregon town was forced to slash its law enforcement budget from $20 million to less than $9 million, due to massive fiscal shortfalls. As a result, the county was driven to release 39 prisoners, including people charged with assault, burglary and rape. Only three sheriffs patrol Josephine County, an area larger than Rhode Island, and those sheriffs only respond to life-threatening calls.
Nevertheless, the self-reliant citizens who live in area weren’t going to let fiscal problems stymie law enforcement. Establishing a civilian policing force, Sam Nichols and other residents of the rural community established Citizens Against Crime. Members arm themselves with guns, mount flashing lights on their vehicles and keep an eye out for suspicious activity. In conjunction with boots on the ground vigilance, former deputy sheriff Carol Dickson maintains a Facebook page called To Catch a Thief – a kind of “virtual neighborhood watch” program.
But not everyone is sold on the idea. “Some people are taking the law into their own hands, which obviously scares the heck out of me,” says Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. Despite his trepidation, Gilbertson isn’t complaining too loudly. As he puts it, “law enforcement in this community is weak at best.”