Powers' police chief packs up.
POWERS - To hear Duane Sutherland tell it, the Wild Wild West just got a little more unruly.
On Tuesday, Sutherland turned in his keys, badges, Jeep and gun at Powers City Hall, his yearlong tenure as the rural Coos County town's police chief officially over.
The City Council is scrambling to find a new chief, and not just because it's good to have someone running the department. With not even a reserve officer on hand, Sutherland was the only gun in the 730-population town.
"Come around on Saturday night," when all hell is sure to break loose in the "Gateway to the Siskiyous," warned Sutherland, 59. The best response time from scaled-back county sheriff patrols that the people of Powers can now expect is 30 minutes - and that's only if a deputy happens to be in Myrtle Point. And as the county faces cutbacks in federal timber payments, backup from the sheriff is likely to become even more scarce. Bar fights, assaults, thefts and drug deals may soon be the norm here, Sutherland said. Someone threw a rock through the window of the chief's office the day after he submitted his resignation.
"I guarantee you, it was retaliation," he said. "It's just gotten wild."
Some townsfolk say the situation isn't so dire, however. They say Sutherland is frustrated because he couldn't accomplish his grand plans for Powers, but that he's exaggerating the level of lawlessness in this quiet outpost surrounded by cow pastures and crumbling barns.
"I think he's arrogant, and I'll say that to his face," said Ron Rimmer, a retired resident of 15 years. "He came into town with the attitude he was gonna take over."
Sutherland did have big ideas, he said. He took the Powers job last spring after hearing from a friend that the town needed help, having lost its third chief in two years. Not long after Sutherland took the $39,000-per-year post, he said he told the four reserve officers who were working without state certification that they'd have to get training and reapply for their positions. He also wanted to move the police station out of the small office it occupied in City Hall, where suspects being interrogated could be heard in the public library.
"I fix broken police departments," said Sutherland, who served as police chief in South Jordan City, Utah, for 13 years, and operates a two-man consulting company out of nearby Saratoga Springs that offers help with auditing, budgeting, leadership and recruitment for struggling police departments.
By January, Sutherland opened a new police station in Powers, after the owners of the nearby Powers Market agreed to let the city occupy the facility rent-free for a couple of years. But he couldn't find qualified officers to stick around. The city's annual budget includes $8,500 for an additional officer.
"I hired two officers," Sutherland said. "They lasted three months each."
His last officer, Robert Hogge Jr., quit earlier this month. Hogge said he was concerned for his safety and wrote in a resignation letter that "the citizens of the city have become out of control." Rimmer said that's because an angry parent threatened Hogge, after the officer allowed a teenager who'd had too much to drink to drive home.
Sutherland said he ran into resistance at City Hall and on the street to the ideas he had for reforming the police force. In a town where, as Mayor Barbara Cottom said, "You know everyone, and the name of their dog," folks didn't always take kindly to Sutherland's enforcement tactics, he said.
"People get upset here if you arrest their friends and family," Sutherland said. "Some people would prefer there be no cops here."
The workload is staggering, Sutherland said. "I've got 253 hours in this month. I have no backup, no secretaries. I file my own reports and answer the phone."
Sutherland said he's been trying to recruit a new police chief for the last four months. "I haven't had one taker," he said.
Rimmer and other Powers residents say the chief is giving their town a bad name.
"This is one of the nicest, mellowest, most easygoing, friendliest towns I've ever been to," Rimmer said. "If my house burned down, I bet you I'd have 10 people help me put it back together again."
The chief's problem is that he never worked to become a part of the community, Rimmer said.
"He lived in Myrtle Point," said Rimmer, a fact the chief attributed to a lack of suitable housing in Powers. "The police chief should live in town, go to church here, eat at the restaurant, buy fuel at the filling station."
Former reserve officer Laural Dudley wrote a letter in response to a recent article about Sutherland's departure in the Coos Bay newspaper. She pointed out that Sutherland himself isn't certified to be a police officer in Oregon, which means he couldn't have worked here beyond an 18-month waiver anyway.
The only citizens "out of control," she added, are "young people who drive their vehicles up and down the road at 2:30 a.m. when there are no police officers on duty," because they know the chief is 30 minutes away in Myrtle Point. Dudley did mention, however, that two patrol cars' windshields were broken after she stopped a young motorcycle rider without a driver's license, motorcycle endorsement or insurance, and confiscated the bike.
The lack of police in Powers is certainly a problem, Dudley wrote. "What happens when and if we do have a situation where someone has a gun and has threatened to shoot or has shot someone and there is no officer here?"
But Sutherland didn't provide a solution, Dudley said, and he won't be missed:
"If Mr. Sutherland needs help packing his belongings up and loading them into a U-Haul, I am sure that some of the `out of control citizens' would be more than willing to help out."
Winston Ross can be reached at (541) 902-9030 or rgcoast@ oregonfast.net.
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|Title Annotation:||Government; Duane Sutherland's departure leaves the town without a police presence|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 29, 2007|
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