With Multnomah County facing a $36.5 million budget gap, every office is taking considerable losses – even public safety. The gap has been patched, at the expense of cost of living freezes, increasing both car rental taxes and the amount U.S. Marshalls pay to rent jail beds from the county, and reducing department programs across the board by $28.5 million.
The district attorney's office, the sheriff's office and the Department of Community Justice are all facing a reduction in funds.
"I have never felt the cuts would ever end up at that level," said Robert Pung, chairman of the Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee for the DA's office. "It's a small and tightly run organization. There's no safety net, no private law firms or nonprofit organization."
The district attorney's office provides one of the core services of the law enforcement network in the county. Deputy District Attorneys are responsible for filing charges and waging the state's case against someone accused of a crime.
The reduction in funds will lead to a reduction in the amount of time prosecutors spend on cases. District Attorney Mike Shrunk says this could lead to an increase in scofflaws.
"There's an underlying fabric in the community," he told the Multnomah County Commissioners during a budget hearing. "That's adherence to the rule of law."
He stressed that despite these hard economic times, his office will strive to ensure that every broken law will have a consequence for its breaker, no matter how small. But as resources dwindle, Shrunk said his office will hold violent crimes as a high priority. The office is looking at a reduction of 18.3 deputy district attorney positions. Many of those district attorneys will not lose their jobs, the number of hours they work will be reduced, says Shrunk.
Many aspects of the DA's office will be reduced – from the Child Abuse Unit to the Drugs and Vice Unit — although Commissioner Deborah Kafoury made an amendment to reinstate several portions of the Neighborhood District Attorney Unit. That program connects deputy district attorneys to the people who live in Portland's neighborhoods and the police.
Multnomah County Co-Chair praised the Shrunk's office for taking a broad-based approach to safety by acknowledging the important role that other county-funded programs – such as early childhood education – play in the prevention of crime. She also said she was a bit concerned about the role that grants play in funding the prosecutor's activities.
"The entire county will feel the effects of these cuts," she said. "You're insulated from that a bit. I don't want this to become a privately funded public safety service."
Department of Community Justice
Scott Taylor, the director of the Department of Community Justice, says much like everyone else, budget cuts will force them to focus on the most problematic offenders and cut some programs. The department supervises juveniles and adults on parole and probation, providing them services and programs to help them reintegrate into their communities.
Keeping costs down, Taylor said the vast majority of people who enter their system don't commit new crimes within the following three years – the standard timeframe for determining recidivism. There has also been a decrease in the number of people incarcerated and on supervision in the county.
"If crime is down, there are fewer people going through our door," Taylor said.
Despite this, the department is cutting 33 positions and eliminating or reduced the following programs:
• Juvenile Multi-Systemic Therapy Program;
• Adult Felony Supervision;
• Support to Wraparound Project;
• Reduced Culturally Specific Intervention Services for youth.
The cuts, he says, make it harder to retain their highly trained and diverse workforce. There will also be cuts in intervention and prevention strategies.
"It's much harder to tell if we've kept someone from coming to us," he said. "Just keeping them in a mainstream school is a top risk reducer."
As with the county at large and other agencies, cuts to state funding could have a profound and yet unknown affect on future operations.