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Officers Supervising Portland Criminal Defendants Awaiting Trial Warn They’re Stretched Too Thin

This month, the deputies complained of an explosion in work.

Three hundred defendants awaiting criminal trial in Multnomah County are currently assigned to one supervising sheriff's deputy. It's nearly triple the number of criminal defendants each deputy is supposed to monitor.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office runs a program called Close Street Supervision. Six deputies are tasked with keeping an eye on defendants released from jail before trial—to discourage defendants from offending while awaiting trial and to make sure they show up to court.

This month, the deputies complained of an explosion in work.

"Over the past few months, we believe due to jail capacity, Close Street's caseload has rapidly increased," Sheriff Mike Reese wrote in a Jan. 4 letter sent to Multnomah County Circuit Court Presiding Judge Stephen Bushong. "Caseloads have skyrocketed to over 300 cases, with no change in personnel or other resources. Under these circumstances, the program cannot be effective."

The letter foreshadows a budget season in which the sheriff will almost certainly ask for more funding for programs like Close Street that help keep people out of jail.

The county has been reducing jail capacity for several years as part of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. In February, the county plans to launch a new diversion program that will release some inmates on their own recognizance if they agree to enter designated mental health support programs.

A smaller jail and increases in some crimes have left few spare beds, especially on weekends and holidays. Law enforcement officials argue the county has failed to adequately fund the supervision unit even as it decreased jail capacity.

"Close Street has done excellent work over the years, but deputies assigned to this program are being put in an untenable position," says Brent Weisberg, spokesman for the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office. "They are having to manage far too many cases for the number of deputies available. Consequently, the supervision and accountability of individuals pretrial has been compromised, and that directly impacts public safety."