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Councilors' opinion was short on facts

After reading the guest opinion from City Councilors Eleanor Ponomaref and Sarah Westover, I felt compelled to correct a few things and to give a better account of what is really happening daily in Jackson County in regard to law enforcement.

First, I’d like to say the councilors could have saved us a lot of time had they simply stated they had a low opinion of law enforcement personnel and are against the incarceration of people. Instead, we got an article filled with ignorance, distractions and political dogma. I have no doubt many law enforcement professionals read that article and felt a lot of frustration as I did.

My main point of contention is the line, “With tripled jail capacity, the county will have an overwhelming incentive to fill those beds with an extra

500 or 600 people per night, leading to more profiling of people with mental illness or addiction, homeless people, youth, and people of color.”

That line is insulting, ill-informed and rife with fringe rhetoric. The only people who are incarcerated are those charged with crimes or found guilty of crimes. Lying on the sidewalk is not a crime, and the homeless won’t be subject to arrest for that. Being high is not a crime. Youths will not be arrested for playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. Not even those of color.

In fact, youths cannot be housed in an adult jail unless they have been charged with a Measure 11 crime. I urge the councilors to better serve their constituents by learning the basics of the criminal justice system and criminal law. I also urge the councilors to vote the beliefs of the majority of their constituents, and not those of a handful.

The councilors spoke of programs used by other counties. I can tell you those programs are typically feel-good stories for the public, and their success rates are highly inflated. I have first-hand knowledge of an in-house rehabilitation program that boasted an 88% success rate. The reality is success rates are quite low for those seeking treatment, and nonexistent for those who have rehabilitation forced upon on them.

Program directors will boast high success rates to justify their jobs. However, anybody can google “rehabilitation success rates” and see for themselves just how unsuccessful these rates truly are.

That does not mean drug rehabilitation is not needed. It is, but we cannot put all of our eggs into a basket with such a low success rate.

The councilors wrote of CAHOOTS in Eugene. CAHOOTS is neither dispatched to crime scenes nor crimes in progress. They do not do the work of police. CAHOOTS saves Eugene money by doing the work of fire/ambulance transport services. CAHOOTS responds to issues of homelessness, intoxication, mental illness and substance abuse, and transports those people to the hospital when needed.

Obviously, a CAHOOTS type program would be helpful anywhere, but they have nothing to do with the jail. Again, people transported to jail must be charged with a crime. Being intoxicated, going through a mental health crisis or being homeless isn’t against the law. This example is a distraction by the councilors in a sorry attempt to discredit the sheriff’s efforts.

Jackson County desperately needs a much bigger jail. Right now, the only people being housed are felons, and many lower-level felons are released every day due to capacity. What does that mean? It means that only people charged with serious crimes are being taken to jail.

Those charged with misdemeanors are getting cited and released in the field. That means people charged with theft are not going to jail. Shoplifters walk away free every day. It means somebody who steals your phone or golf clubs out of your car is not going to jail. If you catch somebody stealing your toolbox out of your shed, he is not going to jail. He is getting a ticket.

The councilors wrote there would be an “overwhelming incentive to fill those beds.” Unfortunately, those beds will be filled with little effort.

There are many more misdemeanors committed than felonies (especially now with drug possession being a misdemeanor), and the vast majority of misdemeanor offenders walk away with a ticket. The few who are transported to the jail are released within hours, having seen neither a judge nor a mental health specialist. That has to change, and will with a new jail.

Not only do many of these people not show up to the court hearings, earning a new charge of failure to appear (FTA), but this new charge further adds to their criminal history, and also creates more work for an already backlogged District Attorney’s Office. These people will see a judge in the new jail, eliminating many potential FTAs from their records.

The new jail will also be the first step for those people charged with crimes to seek mental health services and drug rehabilitation. Currently at the Jackson County Jail, roughly $900,000 is budgeted for mental health assistance. Under the new jail budget, that would be increased to around $4.3 million. Isn’t that the commitment the councilors seek?

Let’s talk about some other crimes that are typically “cite and release” in the field in Jackson County: theft, harassment, unlawful entry into a motor vehicle, trespassing, drunk driving, simple assault, disorderly conduct, strangulation, driving while suspended, reckless endangering, animal abuse, menacing.

What is menacing? Menacing is when somebody threatens injury with a weapon. Imagine a man holding a baseball bat threatening to bash your head in. Here in Roseburg, that guy goes directly to jail. In Jackson County, he gets a ticket. If he is transported to the jail, again he will be out within hours.

If somebody takes a hammer to your car or your bedroom window, hello, disorderly conduct. A misdemeanor. A — you guessed it — t-i-c-k-e-t. Misdemeanors aren’t small, meaningless crimes as some want you to believe, and locking up misdemeanor offenders will make you, your family and your neighbors safer.

I’ve worked for a number of sheriffs who had patrol backgrounds and could not have cared less about corrections. Sheriff Nate Sickler has gone above and beyond in not only trying to get a new jail built, but to ensure the jail is fully functional for those inmates in need of services. He has worked with mental health and addiction professionals for their input, and to comprehend the issues so he can correctly implement needed services. Your sheriff cares.

Sheriff Sickler has also spoken with members of law enforcement including judges, defense attorneys and prosecutors. They all agree a new jail is crucial. The current one fails public safety. Period.

As a former corrections deputy, I have given Sheriff Sickler my input regarding both the old and the new jail and he has been able to finish my sentences. He has gone all out to educate himself in all aspects of this subject, and I have been very, very impressed. Jackson County is lucky to have a sheriff who has worked diligently in hopes of building a modern jail that will be effective for decades to come.

Tell your councilors you demand, yes demand, to vote on the new jail, and then vote “yes.” The cost will increase the longer your representatives drag their feet. Housing criminals for a longer duration won’t stop crime, but it’ll curb it substantially, as has happened in numerous places despite what some young, inexperienced councilors may say.

Make the jail the deterrent it should be. And to the councilors who wrote that opinion, please watch “Seattle Is Dying” on YouTube. Ignoring crime has done neither the city of Seattle nor its law-abiding citizens any favors.

Rick Arrospide is a former Ashland resident now living in Roseburg.

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