GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Josephine County Sheriff's Office is understaffed and desperate for help, so they're mulling whether to turn to local volunteers to help process crime scenes.
The program is still under consideration and there is no concrete timeline for its implementation, The Daily Courier of Grants Pass reported.
The sheriff's office is reeling from layoffs after cuts to the county public safety budget. Federal timber payments dwindled in Southern Oregon and voters rejected two county public safety levies to help pay for law enforcement.
The Oregon State Police have served as the de facto sheriff's office after 60 of the sheriff's office's 100 deputies were laid off in July 2012. The sheriff's office typically has a handful of patrol deputies on duty from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.
"We are going to start on burglaries," said sheriff's office volunteer Pat Lewis. "If we get really good at it, we're going to move on to other crimes."
The program would train volunteers on how to assist with background investigations and the processing of burglaries and certain other crime scenes, including dusting for fingerprints, taking photographs and collecting other evidence.
"There's a right way to do it," said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbert, adding that volunteers would be trained in the legal way to process a crime scene.
District Attorney Stephen Campbell says he supports the concept of volunteers but is worried that evidence collected by unsworn volunteers could be vulnerable to scrutiny by defense attorneys in court.
"I would want what they found to be turned over to a sworn officer to follow up on," Campbell said.
The investigation teams will be led by specially trained former law enforcement officers who have agreed to volunteer their time, Lewis said. Those special deputies will be armed and will supervise other volunteers, who will assist them.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press