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New sheriff prepares for tough road ahead

Bronze letters have been ordered to replace the ones stolen from the "Josephine County Adult Jail" sign last March. The sheriff's SUV has been swapped out for a Ford Crown Victoria. And the pictures of John Wayne have come down from the walls of the sheriff's office, replaced by a family photo.

Despite the homey feel that the personal effects create, there's no mistaking that there's serious business at hand: Dave Daniel is stepping into the hot seat in Josephine County.

Elected sheriff in November, defeating two-term incumbent Gil Gilbertson, the former Grants Pass police officer is taking over as the county's chief law enforcement officer at a time when the county is poised to lose millions of dollars in federal funding at the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

A citizens' group is working to place a tax proposal on the May ballot that would pay for more patrols, increase the jail's capacity and reopen the shuttered Juvenile Justice Center, but county voters have shot down three public safety levies since 2012 — the year drastic cuts in federal funding forced Gilbertson to slash his staff by two-thirds.

Daniel said at a public safety forum in Grants Pass last week that he wants to book every criminal suspect arrested in the county, but that's not possible at this point. The jail has 262 beds, but can operate at a capacity of only 130 beds because of staffing constraints.

Jail staff determines whom to book based in part on a list of priority crimes developed by the Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney's Office and other entities. Many suspects end up being cited and released because there isn't space for them at the jail.

Daniel said he's instituting a new policy so that everyone brought there will be fingerprinted and have a mug shot taken — even those who end up being cited and released. That way, even if he can't incarcerate everyone he wants to, he'll at least be building a thorough database of local crime suspects, he said.

The new sheriff wants to place "resident deputies" in geographical areas around the county and in three public high schools operated by the Three Rivers School District.

The new sheriff is also scrapping Gilbertson's controversial plan to train volunteers to process crime scenes in property-crime cases. Critics questioned whether evidence collected by volunteers would stand up in court.

In addition, the sheriff has made changes to patrol hours. In recent months, there have been six deputies patrolling the county 12 hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to a one-time infusion of county reserve money that was approved by the Board of Commissioners over the summer. Under Daniel, there are still patrols seven days a week but he has reduced the coverage to 10 hours a day to create more overlap in the deputies' schedules.

"For officer safety and liability issues, I was forced to scale it back," Daniel said.

On a recent morning, as Daniel sat in his office describing his concerns about deputies not having backup, a staffer popped into his office to alert him about an urgent call in progress. Daniel turned on his radio and listened. Deputy Jim Geiger had pulled over a stolen car in Cave Junction and was holding the driver at gunpoint, waiting for a second deputy to arrive. Daniel appeared upset by what he was hearing.

"I have a deputy right now, he has stopped a stolen car. He has no backup. His backup is running from Grants Pass right now. That's a problem for me. His life is in danger," Daniel said.

Daniel said another change is that there is now a rotating on-call deputy to respond in case an extremely serious crime occurs after-hours.

"The deputies were willing to step up without compensation and go to an on-call status," he said.

The Sheriff's Office still doesn't have overnight patrols, forcing Oregon State Police to respond to the most urgent after-hours calls. One of Daniel's first priorities when he took office was to meet with Oregon State Police and other law enforcement agencies and establish open lines of communication.

He said of OSP, "They do a fantastic job for Josephine County and the citizens of Josephine County. That's not necessarily their function to do what they're doing right now."

Daniel has also met with Grants Pass police, the Bureau of Land Management, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He is meeting soon with a U.S. Forest Service representative, and plans to propose a contract to provide a deputy for that agency.

Reach reporter Melissa McRobbie at 541-474-3806 or mmcrobbie@thedailycourier.com

Sheriff Dave Daniel is in charge and making changes at the Josephine County jail and sheriff's offices. Timothy Bullard / Grants Pass Daily Courier