For months, officials in one rural Oregon county have been trying to convince residents to support a tax increase aimed at restoring lost federal funding for the sheriff's department. And for months, residents have said no.
But rather than do without, per se, a number of citizens have decided to do for themselves what once-employed sheriff's deputies did for them - serve and protect, as reported by FoxNews.com:
When budget woes reduced the sheriff's department in one rural Oregon county to a bare-bones force, residents decided to take matters into their own hands -- creating armed patrol groups in defiance of local officials.
Their decision has raised safety concerns with the county government, which would prefer residents instead hike their own taxes to fund the hiring of trained deputies. But despite the risks, the move stands as a unique, some would say innovative, response to one of the country's most severe local budget crunches.
Felt the need to continue serving
In Josephine County, where nearly 70 percent of the land is owned by Uncle Sam, officials have long relied on federal timber subsidies to pay bills. But when those funds were terminated by Washington, county officials tried to pass a tax levy in May 2012 to make up the nearly $7.5 million budget shortfall.
Residents, however, failed to support it; as result, the sheriff's department was hollowed out. Dozens of prisoners were set free, the major crimes unit was shuttered, and the department reduced its hours to Monday-Friday, only eight hours a day. As a final blow, the department issued a press release saying its remaining deputies would only respond to "life-threatening situations," if they deemed it so.
Ken Selig did not accept the department's cuts and declaration. The longest-serving officer in each of the three local agencies, he was forced to retire when the department scaled back its services - but he nonetheless felt a responsibility to continue serving his community's most vulnerable.
"Who else is going to protect you when your government can't?" he said.
So, Selig and a friend, Pete Scaglione, formed the North Valley Community Watch, a county-wide organization that helps citizens in non-life-threatening situations, which consist mostly of property crimes.
And with no local sheriff's department to speak of, the group's mission is much broader than a typical "neighborhood watch" organization:
Not only did the Sheriff's Office narrow its scope to "life-threatening" situations, but it even encouraged people who felt unsafe to relocate. "... the Sheriff's Office regretfully advises that, if you know you are in a potentially volatile situation (for example, you are a protected person in a restraining order that you believe the respondent may violate), you may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services," the original release stated.
The community watch organization that Selig helped found now meets once per month and is constantly seeking ways to fill law enforcement gaps. During their meetings, the focus is on teaching the nearly 100 members of the group personal safety.
'We believe in responsible citizens doing responsible things'
The organization also has a trained "response team" consisting of 12 members who will report to scenes of non-life-threatening situations if summoned.
Response team members do carry firearms, but Selig said the emphasis is on providing deterrent presence; none of the team members have ever fired a shot. And he says most group members agree that there is no substitute for a well-trained law enforcement presence, but without that they felt like they had no alternative but to step up to protect their communities.
"We believe responsible citizens doing responsible things make it hard for criminals to do irresponsible things," he said, adding that he believes politics are behind the county's decision not to channel what funds it does have into law enforcement.
"The key is to get the funding somewhere where the local people can get the services they need," Selig said.
County officials counter that they have cut as much as they can and are living within county means.