When residents in Josephine County, Ore., voted against a tax levy in 2012, the sheriff’s office was gutted, prisoners were released from jail and the department vowed to respond only to “life-threatening situations.”
While local officials say higher taxes are needed to restore funding to the local sheriff’s department, residents in the rural Oregon county have decided to go in a different direction — creating armed patrol groups and taking the community’s safety into their own hands.
Roughly 70 percent of the land in Josephine County is reportedly owned by the federal government. The local government had “long relied on federal timber subsidies to pay the bills,” FoxNews.com reports. When the funds stopped rolling in, county officials had to find a way to address a nearly $7.5 million budget shortfall. One could easily argue that the county became too reliant on government funds.
Now the county government wants residents to agree to tax hikes so trained deputies can be hired to protect the community. Officials have also cited potential safety concerns relating to the armed patrol groups. But residents don’t seem open to the idea of higher taxes.
Ken Selig, the longest-serving law enforcement officer, was forced to retire because of the cuts. However, he told FoxNews.com that he found the sheriff office’s decision to only respond to “life-threatening situations” unacceptable.
So he and a friend banded together to form the North Valley Community Watch, “a county-wide organization dedicated to helping citizens in non-life-threatening situations, primarily property crimes,” the report adds.
“Who else is going to protect you when your government can’t?” Selig said.
Selig’s community watch group, looking to fill in the law enforcement cracks, now meets once a month to discuss crime and teach its approximately 100 members about personal safety. The group also has a trained “response team,” which consists of 12 people who will respond to the scene of a reported non-life-threatening situation if called.
Though the “response team” members do carry legal firearms, Selig said the team’s main goal is to provide a deterrent presence, and that none of them have ever fired a shot. He said those involved in his group believe there is no substitute for well-trained law enforcement, but they feel they have no other choice but to protect their community.
“We believe responsible citizens doing responsible things make it hard for criminals to do irresponsible things,” he said.
Selig said the county government needs to find the funding somewhere in the budget so the people in Josephine County can get the services they need and deserve. He said officials are playing politics and trying to pressure citizens to pass a tax hike they can’t afford to pay.
But Josephine County Commissioner Keith Heck says the “county coffers are at the bottom of the barrel.”
Heck said he supports the idea of citizens being vigilant within their own community, but worries about the rise of “aggressive” community watch groups.
Read FoxNews.com’s full report here.