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Stress grows as OSP cuts mount

Oregon State Police Capt. Kurt Barthel doesn't know whether to laugh, cry, get angry or just suck it up and deal with the fact his once-strong agency is withering and, perhaps, dying.

For more than 20 years OSP's culture has been one of stoic acceptance as it waited for the Legislature's budget ax to drop again and again. Since 1979, troopers have been expected to hold their heads high as their numbers were cut in half. There are now 309 sworn troopers in Oregon, Barthel said.

We cannot have 24-hour patrols anywhere in the state, Barthel said. It's really disheartening when a drunk driver is speeding 15 minutes in front of you at 100 mph and you won't catch him because there's no trooper in front of him to intercept.

In fact, Barthel said there are times when there are no troopers policing Interstate 5 from the Washington to the California borders. Earlier this year, a trooper busted a freeway driver cruising over 100 mph. During the stop, the passenger told the trooper that he drove more than 130 mph on the freeway late at night because he knew there were no troopers on patrol, Barthel said.

The frustration has seeped into every facet of the OSP, including the dispatch offices. Medford-resident Dina Rudesheim has dispatched for OSP since 1991. She can recall numerous times when people call in to report drunk drivers weaving all over the highway, only to find that there are no troopers within 50 miles.

— Generally, I don't tell people I have no one on duty, she said. That gets them riled up. I take as much information as I can and then I tell them if I don't have anyone to set up, I'll try to get (a sheriff's deputy).

Since there are only two dispatch centers in Oregon ' one in Medford and one in Portland ' Rudesheim is responsible for nearly two-thirds of the state. She monitors calls from 17 stations, often by herself.

If you put me with eight stations and tell me to dispatch, that's fine ... as long as nothing happens, she said.

OSP'sCentral Point branch is sarcastically called a fat office because it has 12 troopers assigned to it. In 1978, it was home to 40 troopers. In the next six months, Barthel expects to loose one or two troopers to reassignment to plug holes elsewhere in the state.

Troopers are nothing if not dedicated. Barthel said troopers are regularly called in early and stay late.

Rudesheim routinely stays between 10 and 15 minutes over her shift, working off the clock to finish up her night's work. Off-the-clock work is known as love time among OSP employees. She has seen troopers work off the clock on numerous occasions.

Barthel said he was written up for putting in love time in 1992. His punishment: a pay reduction.

It's just an unspoken thing, Rudesheim said. Everyone knows what 'love time' is. Your goal is to get the job done, not make a lot of money.

However, most troopers won't be needing hand-outs anytime soon. Even with love time, paid overtime also is a regular occurrence, Barthel said.

The troopers, because of overtime, earn more than most, if not all, of the supervisors, he said.

Both Rudesheim and Barthel said no one complains about love time.

Being a state trooper is as much a state of mind as it is a job, it seems. Troopers are taught to suffer in silence, to continue working hard as their house falls down around them, Barthel said.

You don't air your dirty laundry, Rudesheim said. You just suck it up and deal with it.

However, this ideal is crumbling under the pressure of a note attached to the 2005 state budget that calls for a study that will explore the impact of shifting all or part of OSP's patrol divisions to Oregon's county sheriffs.

Anymore, what's the point of taking your lumps and doing your best with what you're given, Barthel said. Basically, we're being screwed.

Barthel thought OSP was headed back to 24-hour patrols during the last Legislature session, when one day he was informed there would be funding for 45 new troopers to be sworn in during the next year. Before the day was over, he learned their ranks would, in fact, be cut by 20, he said.

For years, we've been taught to do more with less, Barthel said. At this point, there's no end in sight.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail Stress grows as OSP cuts mount"cconrad@mailtribune.com.