Serious crimes stretches Malheur County sheriff’s overtime budget

VALE – A wave of major crimes during the past year has stretched the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office overtime budget to the breaking point.

Undersheriff Travis Johnson briefed the Malheur County Court March 20 on the shrinking overtime budget but did not ask for more funding.

Statistics from last year don’t show a spike in serious crimes in Ontario but a half dozen high-risk incidents during the past six months forced the sheriff’s office to deploy more deputies over longer periods than in the past.

Those incidents also involved the deployment of the sheriff’s Emergency Response Team, a group of deputies trained in special operations tactics. 

Sheriff Brian Wolfe said a single high-risk crime – such as a person with a weapon barricaded in a house or apartment – typically involves up to 18 deputies, including the special operations team. 

Those deployments eat up overtime, said Wolfe.

“It all adds up,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said the sheriff’s office began the year with $98,000 in its overtime coffers and has used $73,000 with three months left in the budget cycle.

“It is almost all gone and it gives us concern,” said Wolfe.

In the latter part of 2018, for example, his agency responded to an incident where an Ontario man holed up in an apartment, prompting an hours-long standoff. 

In November, a traffic stop led to another long deadlock at another apartment that ended when a Nampa man shot himself.

Last month, a police shooting in Ontario compelled Wolfe to call out more deputies and again deploy the Emergency Response Team.

The Emergency Response Team is an essential piece to the overall police response to a serious crime, said Wolfe.

“There are a lot of tactics when making an entry into a home. There all kinds of situations. You can’t say, ‘we are out of overtime so we can’t call people out’ when you have people getting shot at or whatever,” said Wolfe.

Standoffs with police also usually do not end quickly, said Wolfe.

“I have never seen one for an hour. They are always longer than that. Even if they did, by the time the guys and gals get the call, get geared up and then get back you have a couple of hours just in that,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said his concern that the spate of high-risk incidents maybe a “new normal.”

“It just appears to be the way people are behaving anymore,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said his office would have to “watch what we are spending, obviously.”

“There will be some savings realized in a couple of vacancies we had that are now filled but were vacant for quite a while,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe said if his office does use the rest of its overtime budget between now and June 30, he would pull money from other places in his budget.