When you’re in deep trouble and in need of the cops, you don’t care what color uniform they are wearing. And here on the South Coast, there’s a good chance that you’ll just as likely see a tan shirt as a blue one.
Because when it comes to police jurisdiction around these parts, law enforcement doesn’t let those lines stop them when someone needs help.
Everyone assumes that cops back each other up. And for the most part, that’s true. But here on the South Coast the level of interagency cooperation is exceptional.
Last June, for example, when first reports came in of a boy drowning in a lake at John Topits park in Coos Bay, the city’s police rushed to the scene. But North Bend police were closer and got there first. There was no request for help; North Bend officers just knew to be there.
And just last week a suspect crashed a vehicle into a Barview workshop. That’s a county call and sheriff deputies responded. But so did a trooper from Oregon State Police. Might as well; the state police Bay Area headquarters is in the same area.
The natural explanation is one of necessity. Years of budget cuts have forced reductions in force, meaning law enforcement agencies have to come to each other’s assistance.
But the reality is deeper than economics.
Coos Bay Police Chief Gary McCullough calls it a brotherhood.
“We’ve always worked that way,” McCullough said.
Indeed, that’s the way it works all up and down the South Coast, said Oregon State Police Lt. Steve Smartt, whose jurisdiction spans as far south as the California border.
“Well, we’ve grown up together (professionally),” Smartt says. “Most of us commanders started around the same time and that’s the way we’ve always done it; being there for each other.”
City, country, state and even tribal agencies monitor each others radio traffic and dispatchers and officers on the road know where everyone is. They’re intertwined.
The newcomer among the police commanders is Robert Kappelman, North Bend’s police chief. He came last summer from Wisconsin. Agencies there cooperated too, he said. But geography makes a difference here.
“We’re even more isolated,” Kappelman said.
Sounds like another example of our South Coast island existence, an isolation that fosters an interdependency that we all benefit from.