Malheur County sheriff takes to the road to boost patrols

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe spends time out on the road every week, bolstering his patrol staff as part of a new blueprint to extend law enforcement coverage. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – As most of Malheur County slept one recent early morn, the man charged with protecting them awoke and prepared to go on patrol in darkness.

Not long after 4 a.m., Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe stepped into the crisp high desert cold for a day that would stretch 17 hours.

He headed off to spend his first hours on duty patrolling the roads of a county larger than the state of Delaware.

That day, Wolfe spent most of a morning driving around the southern end of the county. His actions seemed routine and his patrol was uneventful, but Wolfe wasn’t necessarily searching for criminals. Instead he was driving from one point on the rural map to another to show that the sheriff’s office is out keeping watch.

“There is a definite connection between having a presence and a reduction in crime,” said Wolfe.

In Adrian, Wolfe negotiated his sheriff’s office truck down a narrow dirt alleyway. As dogs barked and Wolfe waved at a nearby resident, he stopped his truck next to a woodpile.

“People have been taking this homeowner’s wood,” Wolfe said as he peered at the stacked wood next to a fence.

Wolfe didn’t linger but he scanned the pile and then looked out over the back yards of the nearby homes.

Wolfe is taking on the duty himself as part of a new program he initiated earlier this year to supplement his patrol deputies with hours on the road for himself and his command staff. He’s trying to get as close as possible to around-the-clock patrols.

Now, along with Wolfe, sheriff’s office leaders like Undersheriff Travis Johnson, lieutenants and sergeants leave their desks and head out.

“We have five additional staff that don’t normally do day-to-day patrol who are taking a day. We cover the hours that don’t normally get worked in areas that don’t see much coverage,” said Johnson.

Wolfe said before he implemented his plan, the sheriff’s office had someone on patrol duty 20 hours a day. Now, that’s only one to two hours a day that go unstaffed.

During that short gap, a deputy is assigned to be on call.

For Wolfe, the extended coverage marks a milestone for his office.

“For a long time, we’ve been trying to come up with a solution to provide more coverage 24 hours a day,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said conventional wisdom dictated that goal was impossible.

“Believe it or not, we are always looking for ways to better serve the community. But I said, ‘Let’s find a way to do it,’” he said.

The change was done with his existing budget, said Wolfe.

Deputies, who are entitled to overtime, adjusted their schedules to keep costs down.

“You can’t make someone work over their assigned shift,” he said.

Wolfe said his employees have embraced the plan, and come in early on their workdays to help patrol.

“We have a good dedicated team that cares about Malheur County,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said a detective also goes out and works patrol during the week.

Wolfe said he doesn’t have any hard numbers to show the program is a success, but he feels it’s working.

“We do look at our logs every day,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said burglaries plagued the rural area around Adrian, but since the new patrol strategy was unveiled “we’ve seen a decrease in activity out there.”

Johnson said the new agenda keeps him busy.

“I can tell you, speaking for me, I have written more citations this year than I have in quite a while,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the added patrols won’t end crime locally.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean we will stop everything. It is still a cat-and-mouse game but it does improve our response,” said Johnson.

Wolfe agreed.

“I don’t want people to think we are not going to have crime, because we are,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said the extra patrols focus on different hours and locations in the county each day. His patrol last week, for example, began on rural roads far from city lights and ended with monitoring school zones to ensure drivers slowed down. Another goal, he said, is to project the sheriff’s office’s influence into secluded places in the county.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time in Adrian, the Annex area and rural Vale,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said it is necessary to “think outside the box,” to find answers.

“Sometimes it is easy to say it can’t be done. But in private business you don’t get to say that. So, we are coming up with solutions,” said Wolfe.

One challenge, he said, for the program occurs when deputies and senior leaders take vacations or are scheduled for training. “But somebody picks it up,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said he plans to modify the plan in the future.

“We still have a ways to go but we know that,” said Wolfe.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.