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Editorials from around Oregon

By The Associated PressJuly 17, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


Mail Tribune, July 14, on the state Legislature’s failure to deliver fire aid:

The 2019 legislative session will be remembered more for what it didn’t accomplish than for what it did, thanks in large measure to the two walkouts staged by Senate Republicans to block legislation they didn’t like. That makes it all the more frustrating that a relatively tiny request by southern Oregon lawmakers to address the issue of wildfires fell through the cracks of the dysfunctional session, missing an opportunity to tackle the problem right away.

As a result, this region must wait through another fire season and maybe longer before anything close to real action can take place.

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who sits on Gov. Kate Brown’s Council on Wildfire Response, spearheaded a proposal to allocate $6.8 million to thin forests around cities in Jackson County. Despite bipartisan support from Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, the proposal did not pass.

We were critical of the governor’s decision to appoint yet another committee to address the very immediate threat of wildfires and the smoke they bring to our region. We remain disappointed that more is not being done this year, not next year or the one after that — although Marsh’s presence on that council was a bright spot, and she did her best to convince up-state legislators of the urgent need for more funding.

But Wallan said lawmakers from the northern portions of the state didn’t seem to understand the need for more resources to fight fires and to help prevent future conflagrations. Let us hope we don’t have to suffer through another smoke-filled summer to get their attention.

The Governor’s Council is expected to produce recommendations this fall — far too late to have any effect on this summer’s fire season. It’s possible that a 12.73% increase in the Oregon Department of Forestry’s budget could provide some additional money for fire suppression, but only after the governor’s council makes recommendations — “later this year,” according to an ODF spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, southern Oregonians hold their collective breath and feel grateful for somewhat cooler-than-normal temperatures so far this season. If that holds, and lightning stays away, we could get through the summer unscathed. But that would be sheer luck, not the result of leadership from the governor or assistance from the Legislature.


The Register-Guard, July 14, on changes in the Eugene Police Department:

The Eugene Police Department has had significant problems over the years — including the awful nadir in 2005 when two officers were found to have been sexually assaulting multiple women over a period of years. That scandal resulted in the creation of the Eugene Police Auditor’s Office.

The auditor’s office experienced a 20% increase in complaints last year. That isn’t cause for concern, though. On the contrary, the details of the report should encourage great optimism. The types of complaints and the officers they are against point to encouraging signs, as well as some useful strategies for further improvements.

Most of the complaints received by the auditor involved police officers not showing up quickly enough or being as responsive as people would like.

But Eugene Police Auditor Mark Gissiner believes that the department’s recent focus on increasing the number of officers will ease some of those complaints.

“We continue to receive a large number of complaints related to lack of police response and response times,” Gissiner’s report says. “Chief (Chris) Skinner has prioritized staffing, and it is our hope that these types of complaints will decrease.”

Skinner himself has shared similar concerns with The Register-Guard in recent months and has made improving service a priority. There’s no denying, though, that this is a transitional time. Skinner is still relatively new as chief, he replaced his deputy, some longtime officers have retired and new recruit classes have been large.

Gissiner sees this situation as an opportunity, and he is right. Many of the complaints filed were against officers with fewer than five years of experience, but they gain experience every day.

“The next few years offer a real opportunity to foster a culture of transparency and collaboration between the police and civilian oversight,” he wrote. ”(The auditor’s) office has been invited by Chief Skinner to participate in recruit training, and we look forward to speaking with them about the role of civilian oversight in Eugene.”

The larger recruit classes are a sign that Skinner’s efforts to change the culture are showing results. It also speaks well of Eugene as a community that so many police officers want to invest in a career here — even while other communities are struggling with law enforcement staffing.

This newer, younger police force can be brought up with a different mentality that better respects the concept and importance of civilian oversight. The type of oversight happening in Eugene is far from commonplace in other areas, and it’s something the community should rightly be proud of.

The ability of the members of the public to take complaints to an independent, external agency that monitors internal investigations and how supervisors handle service complaints also should inspire more confidence in the police force.

The transparency represented by the auditor’s office report, which details the outcome of every complaint, is very important. The public should feel confident that any police officers who are unfit to wear the uniform will be rooted out and that, when necessary, complaints will be dealt with by independent, impartial investigators.

The City Council recently approved a payroll tax — which we supported — that will generate $23.6 million annually to be devoted to public safety. That money will help fund positions for 40 new patrol officers, five detectives and 10 community service officers.

Those additional resources should enable the police department to reduce the number of complaints about response times — or lack of any response. Skinner told The Register-Guard editorial board that officers currently can’t respond to about one-third of calls. Naturally, calls about serious crimes get priority. Officers have had to simply ignore a lot of low-level crime. No wonder there has been an increase in complaints.

Eugene has public safety issues, there can be no doubt. Even as crime rates have declined slightly in recent years, increases in drug crime, violent crime and public nuisances associated with a growing homeless population have become clear.

But the Police Auditor’s Office and Civilian Review board should give the public faith that the Eugene Police Department will be up to the task of making things better.


Albany Democrat-Herald, July 12, on funding the earthquake early warning system:

Last week’s earthquakes in California were a useful reminder to West Coast residents to review their preparations for the next big earthquake — or, really, any natural disaster.

But they also offered an opportunity to check into the status of the ShakeAlert early warning system, which could provide a warning of a few seconds or possibly a minute or two before strong tremors arrived.

The science behind the ShakeAlert system is fascinating. Quakes produce two types of energy that radiate out from the epicenter: primary waves, which scientists persist in calling p-waves, and secondary waves, which are called (you guessed it) s-waves. As it turns out, the primary waves travel faster than the secondary waves and typically don’t cause much destruction. It’s the s-waves, lagging a few seconds behind, that cause the damage.

It’s the gap between the p-waves and the s-waves — sometimes lasting 10 seconds or so, sometimes longer — that offer the opportunity for the ShakeAlert early warnings.

You may be thinking, what good will 10 or 15 seconds advance warning do for me? Well, potentially, it could give you time to take cover under a desk and hold on — actions that could save your life.

The ShakeAlert system also could be extremely useful in terms of preventing what the U.S. Geological Survey calls “cascading failures.” (The USGS has been working to develop and implement the system across the West Coast.) For example, it says, isolating and shutting down utilities before shaking starts could reduce the number of fires that start after a quake. A few seconds of warning could be sufficient to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems.

Sounds promising, right? And, in fact, the ShakeAlert system is up and running today from Canada to the Mexican border, according to Leland O’Driscoll, the ShakeAlert project manager who works at the University of Oregon.

But here’s the catch: The system needs more sensors installed before it’s fully functional in Oregon. O’Driscoll told The Oregonian newspaper that the state needs 75% of 238 statewide sensors in place. By August, the number of sensors in place should be up to 125, with more coming last year.

A bill introduced in the Oregon Legislature would have contributed enough state money to the system to have it be fully functional by 2023, but funding specifically designated for ShakeAlert was eliminated during negotiations on the measure — a disappointing and short-sighted result. The money would not have paid for just the sensors, but also would have funded systems to deliver warnings to the public — which, after all, is kind of the point. O’Driscoll told The Oregonian that ShakeAlert advocates planned to renew their pitch to the Legislature’s 2020 session, and this certainly sounds like an investment legislators should make.

The system will experience some growing pains, but those are to be expected. For example, as The Oregonian reported, neither of the recent California quakes (which thankfully didn’t cause any major injuries) triggered the system, and officials said they would look at modifying the criteria and lowering the threshold at which alerts are issued.

But that could lead to another issue: If the system issues a batch of alerts for small earthquakes that people may not even be able to feel, that runs the risk that people eventually will just ignore the notifications. “If people get saturated with these messages it’s going to make people not care as much,” Robert de Groot of the Geological Survey told The Associated Press.

And that’s possible. But it also seems likely that scientists, given enough time, will be able to fine-tune the system.

Besides, we suspect most Oregon residents will agree with something that O’Driscoll told The Oregonian: “People would rather have a warning without shaking than shaking without warning.”

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