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Back on patrol 24/7

The Oregon State Police in Central Point will be the first in the state to implement 24-hour patrols five years after layoffs stripped the agency to less than half its prior strength.

The Central Point office was pared to 10 troopers in 2003 following state budget cuts. It now has 22 troopers, with two more expected, OSP Lt. Brian Powers said.

The troopers were added during a statewide recruitment drive, which sought to fill OSP command centers across the state.

"It is huge for us to go back to 24-hour patrols," Powers said. "One of the biggest complaints we've heard over the years is there's never a cop around when you need one."

The lean years required Powers to get creative when it came to maintaining an OSP presence on Southern Oregon highways. Troopers were put on call to respond to late-night crashes and detectives along with fish and wildlife troopers were dispatched to emergency situations. Powers praised their commitment over the past five years, but said morale suffered as the agency worked with a skeleton crew.

"It took away some of our ability to perform follow-up investigations with the detectives," Powers said. "And we were really working our troops to death. They were forced to spend more time away from their families to work the long hours."

The Legislature approved the hiring of 139 new troopers, in part to provide full-time coverage for the Interstate-5 corridor, which is a major artery for drugs coming into and leaving Oregon.

The recruits already have paid dividends for the Central Point office, Powers said.

"We have made increases in drug and stolen property arrests in the recent months," he said. "We have also seen a decrease in 100-mph drivers on the highway."

In 2008, more than 237,000 traffic contacts were reported, a 10 percent increase from 2007. Arrests for intoxicated driving climbed from 4,211 in 2007 to 4,478 in 2008.

Powers said he believed the agency would maintain its new numbers despite a tough economic climate. He said he was confident Gov. Ted Kulongoski and the Legislature would make good on their promise to keep OSP staffing a priority.

State Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said the money for the latest recruitment drive already has been allocated, but he hopes someday for the state to create a dedicated funding source for OSP.

"I don't think the economy will affect them too dramatically," Esquivel said. "But if we can't figure out a way to get them dedicated funding, the same thing will happen to them as in the past."

The recruitment drive continues. Information about hiring efforts is available on the agency's Web site at www.OSPTrooper.com, where prospective applicants also can find an online application.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

Trooper Jeff Walker gives a warning to a driver who was speeding in a school zone on Highway 99 near the Oregon State Police office in Central Point. The office will be the first in the state to implement 24-hour patrols. - Jamie Lusch