Troopers are far behind on technology

2011-03-21T11:00:00Z Troopers are far behind on technology Coos Bay World
March 21, 2011 11:00 am

PORTLAND (AP) -- Troopers in fewer than one-third of Oregon State Police patrol cars -- 100 in all -- are able to conduct 21st century police work. For the rest of the force, it may as well be 1980.

For Oregon state troopers, technology common in much of the modern world -- laptops, GPS devices, a statewide radio system -- remains on the wish list. And unless the force gets an influx of cash, that's where the coveted equipment will stay.

For now, it's hand-written citations. Shoddy directions on dark, rural roads. And field operations that are woefully behind-the-times. Forget CSI and think CHiPs.

There's a chance for things to improve, slim though it might be. Oregon State Police are hoping to tap into a share of a $2.4 billion pot of money that would stabilize their funding source and could eventually, their union hopes, put them on par technologically with the rest of the region.

But they'll need help -- first from lawmakers, then voters.

After 20 years of competing with the departments of education and human services for money from the state's general fund, state police want the Legislature to put forth a measure that could lead to switching their source of dollars to the state's highway fund.

If lawmakers move forward with the idea, it would then go to voters. It's very early in the process, and such a bill hasn't yet been drafted. But the state police union says it's easier to compete with road projects than with schools and children, especially given the power of the education lobby that represents Oregon's teachers.

'It would make things easier for us," said outgoing Oregon State Police Officers' Association President Jeff Leighty. 'When you're arguing against kids, it's a tougher sell."

State Sen. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said he doesn't think such a bill would have a realistic shot at approval from voters -- they've rejected moving the state police onto the gas fund twice since 1980 -- but said the police force desperately needs the money 'to bring them into this century."

'They've been underfunded for so long," Esquivel said. 'They need to have GPS, they need to have the ability within their cruisers to have a computer station."

Even if lawmakers put a plan before voters, Esquivel remains skeptical. The state police don't have a lot of money to fund a campaign.

'They can't possibly mount enough money or support," Esquivel said.

In 1980, voters dropped Oregon State Police into the general fund, leaving the agency relatively bereft, especially when compared to other departments.

'Those troopers (in cars without laptops) are essentially working the same way that we did 20 (to) 30 or more years ago," said Lt. Tom Worthy of the state police's patrol division.

For their part, California Highway Patrol troopers have laptops in every car, complete with a touch-screen monitor and a 'control pod" handheld remote. Patrol cars also carry AR-15 assault rifles in addition to the standard shotguns.

And to the north, the Washington State Patrol troopers have laptops that print tickets from the cruiser.

That's not how it works in Oregon, where more than two-thirds of patrol troopers have to write down citations by hand, then call violations in to a dispatcher, who transcribes the report for submission, essentially 'writing the citation or crash report twice," Worthy said.

Two-thirds of Oregon State Police troopers don't have computers in their cars. The department just gave them cell phones, and in an exchange the union made with the department brass, they had to cough up the extra pay they earned for working nights.

Sometimes, being outdated can impede investigations, such as the initial manhunt for David A. Durham, a man who is suspected of shooting a Lincoln City police officer before speeding down Highway 101 and disappearing into the woods north of Waldport.

'If every one of (the patrol cars) there turned up fully equipped like we wanted them to, the dispatcher would have been able to see where they were deployed on the frontage road with Google maps and street view," Worthy said. 'That could have helped us make better decisions on deployment of people or at least had better command and control of where our units are.

'The area commander showed up, he had his sidearm pistol and there they are with a guy who has long guns. That's a very vulnerable position."

It's a contention that the Oregon State Police superintendent later disputed -- more people, not more technology, could have made a difference, he said -- but each is arguing that more money could have changed the outcome of the search, which is still ongoing in a limited capacity by local police.

Even Newport Police Chief Mark Miranda, whose department responded to the Durham call, said his officers have computers in their cars and was quick to say the state police need more resources, especially their radio network.

'They're operating," he said, 'with two cans and a string."

Technology isn't everything in police work, said former New York City police officer Gene O'Donnell, now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But O'Donnell said technology takes a backseat to more traditional uses of dollars in law enforcement when states are backed into a budgetary wall.

'In American policing, there aren't many agreed-upon, universal priorities," O'Donnell said. 'You can drive down the highway and there's a high-tech agency, then you get off on exit 2 and it's like 1950."

Oregon State Police Superintendent Chris P. Brown said he is excited by the prospect of a stable funding source.

'What's most frustrating is a fiscal climate where you have to choose between the troopers and the technology," Brown said. 'We've had the fight to maintain just the troopers in the cars."

But even if the agency gets the dollars it's looking for, Brown said it may take time to bring Oregon troopers up to speed with other departments.

'Any dedicated funding concept would be a wonderful thing for the organization," Brown said. 'Whether it's the gas taxes or some other scenario, it brings stability to the organization.

'But I don't know if that means more money for technology."

Copyright 2015 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. GKW
    Report Abuse
    GKW - March 28, 2011 8:58 pm
    They need to reduce the number of "Troopers" on patrol on the road, with the exception of those in fish and game enforcement.They could use the savings to buy the extra toys they want. They don't perform any real service to the public and every little berg in Oregon has a huge Cop surplus roaming the streets. Port Orford for example has about six or seven Cops with a waiting list of volunteers for a population of barely a thousand people who more than fill in for any lack of troopers.
  2. Report Abuse
    - March 21, 2011 7:33 pm
    Why spend money on technology when they don't even have the money to keep criminals behind bars. Give an "I" phone to every trooper & you have all the technology you need, an AK-47 would be good addition as well. Contact Red Jacket, company behind Sons Of Guns & order up your AK's for Alternative Contrceptive Methods of Oregonian inbred Hillbillies.
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