Local authorities agree drugs and alcohol play a role in many crimes committed in the tri-county area, but Oregon law prohibits them from arresting anyone solely on the basis of intoxication.
Some law enforcement officials think the law should be changed, and their only alternative is to transport people to a state-designated detoxification facility.
But there isn't a single one in Crook, Deschutes or Jefferson counties.
”You can be falling-down drunk and walking down the sidewalk and there's not a darn thing we can do about it,” said Eric Bush, Prineville police chief.
That's because an Oregon statute expressly prohibits local governments from passing laws that make public intoxication a crime.
Under the same statute, lawmakers are barred from enacting any law against drunk and disorderly conduct, vagrancy or using or being under the influence of controlled substances.
Officials can regulate drinking in public, but only in locations where the general public has access, such as a city park. Otherwise, Oregon law prohibits laws against public drinking as well.
The cities of Bend, Redmond, Madras and Prineville have all adopted ordinances prohibiting drinking alcohol on premises open to the general public.
Last month, Madras lawmakers enacted an ordinance making it illegal to be ”visibly intoxicated in any park, playground or trail.”
Though the ordinance appears to conflict with state law barring public intoxication regulations, Robert Lovlien, attorney for the city of Madras, said its language was modeled on ordinances passed elsewhere in Oregon.
And some local law enforcement officers say the ability to arrest intoxicated people would help them do their jobs and prevent criminal activity.
”We know that alcohol does significantly contribute to certain crimes like domestic violence, drunk driving and property crimes,” said Chief Lane Roberts of the Redmond Police Department. ”So, if we were able to arrest them and take them off the street until they sobered up, how much crime could be prevented? It's like a pre-emptive strike.”
Bush said his department gets calls nearly every weekend about intoxicated or suspicious persons they aren't able to take into custody.
”And an hour later we get a call that someone had broken into a car and we go back and find it's the same person,” Bush said.
Bend Police Chief Andy Jordan said his officers encounter similar problems.
”We have had many, many instances where we've come across people too drunk to drive and we've told them not to, and two hours later the car is gone,” Jordan said. ”We find people parked in cars too drunk to drive or do anything and there is nothing we can do with them.”
He said his officers try to assist people who may be too intoxicated to take care of themselves, often spending hours looking for a friend or family member to take them in.
Detox facility wanted
Without a detoxification facility, Jordan said, the police become default caretakers.
”If we can't find a place to take them, then we transport them to the police department and call in one of our reserve officers to sit with them,” Jordan said. ”We end up paying somebody to baby-sit them.”
Officials said the facilities existed in the past but have been shut down. They were unclear on what the costs associated with such a facility might be, and what standards would have to be met to create one.
Jefferson County Sheriff Jack Jones said his deputies will transport ”severely intoxicated” people to the hospital. In the past, he said, they were transported to the jail, but concerns about providing adequate medical care stopped that practice.
”I don't want the liability associated with (housing them at the jail),” said Deschutes County Sheriff Les Stiles. ”And, because public intoxication is not a crime, I have no statutory authority to put them there.”
Stiles said he doesn't think enacting a public intoxication law would help, but having a place to take people would.
”I don't need an additional law on the books to take someone to a detox facility,” Stiles said. ”What I need is a detox facility. Sooner or later we are going to run into a situation where somebody is hurt or killed and we can't prevent that because we don't have a place to take them to stop it from happening.”