NORTH BEND — Starting tonight, the City of North Bend won’t have police coverage from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
At least, there will be no coverage provided by the North Bend Police Department.
“… As in the early days of the west, you and your deputies are once again the only line of defense between the community and lawlessness,” wrote Terence O’Connor, North Bend City Manager, in a letter to Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni, notifying him about the loss of police coverage at night in the city.
Last week, the City of North Bend hoped to move forward with an inter-governmental agreement or request for Coos Bay Police to provide temporary or limited police services for 90 days, according to Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock. But Craddock said that on Friday last week he was notified by O’Connor that “due to a contractual dispute with the Mill Casino and Hotel, (the city) had to withdraw ….”
The rollback on all services from the North Bend Police Department came after the North Bend City Council approved its 2020-2021 budget last month. Budget cuts from the reduced public safety fee led to five officers being laid off from the NBPD, as well as two open positions being dissolved. This leaves approximately 12 officers on staff.
The reduction to the public safety fee came after a public vote in the May election, lowering the fee from $30 to $15. This reduced the amount the city receives from the fee by $785,000.
On Friday, Sheriff Zanni received the letter from O’Connor regarding what the city now faced.
“We had discussed the possibility of the CCSO providing North Bend coverage between (11 p.m. and 7 a.m.),” O’Connor wrote. “The concern being one that the city had contractual obligations to The Mill Casino and Hotel for police and emergency services which they paid for and would need to be continued.
“You graciously reviewed your operations in an attempt to help, however we jointly concluded that your department has insufficient human resources at this time to have the city contract with CCSO for additional dedicated police services to the city ….”
He added that “regrettably” the city was writing to inform Zanni’s office that “effective 11 p.m. on June 30, 2020, there will be no law enforcement available in the City of North Bend between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. and that any 911 calls for police service will place the burden of response on the CCSO as the underlining law enforcement jurisdiction in the county.”
O’Connor said the city recognized the constraints this put on the CCSO, which has 13 patrol deputies.
In response, Zanni wrote to O’Connor, stating that the law enforcement agencies directly affected by this will meet to provide a short-term agreement to respond to emergencies in North Bend at night. These agencies include Coos Bay Police, Oregon State Police, Coquille Tribal Police, and the CCSO.
“However any such response by any of the agencies would not be without cost to the City of North Bend,” Zanni wrote. “Any agency that responded to an emergency within your city would track their associated costs and as such would be submitting a bill to the City of North Bend for reimbursement. Those costs would be for extraordinary expenses created by the need to respond to emergency calls in the City of North Bend because of the lack of police presence.
“Since the police department is not willing to commit to at least having an on-call response system, it leaves no other option…,” he continued. “Since these responses would not be to assist or aid the City of North Bend’s Police Department, none of the responses or the associated costs would meet the criteria for mutual aid and therefore the cost would be the responsibility of the City of North Bend.”
In an interview with The World, Zanni put it simply: “I’m not comfortable leaving approximately 10,000 people without some kind of plan for emergency response.”
He advised for the citizens of North Bend to talk with the city administration to “find out why they have officers but (why) they’re not going to be on call for an emergency at night. (The CCSO) had times we could not have deputies on the road but always had someone available by phone … for emergencies. That’s the standard procedure for law enforcement, even for small departments.”
Zanni pointed to the Powers Police Department, which has one police chief and a reserve officer. During an emergency, Zanni said the chief will sometimes be called in the middle of the night and “he will respond.”
The current situation is “not sustainable,” Zanni explained, “because none of the agencies who end up responding to these have more funds or resources to start with.”
In fact, Zanni lost three deputy positions in his department due to budget shortfalls for the 2020-2021 budget year.
“Now we have an added area we have to respond to in an emergency,” he said, but added that “(deputies) will do what they need to do to protect and serve the citizens of our community ….”
The World reached out to O'Connor and the North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman for comment, but did not receive a response by deadline.