Oregon sheriff criticizes new bail reform policies: Residents want criminals jailed

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An Oregon sheriff said the state’s recently implemented bail reform policies are making her community less safe and contradict what rural residents want.

“If Portland or other communities want to be okay with letting some of these people facing very serious crimes out, then that should be their choice as a community,” Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan told Fox News. “Our residents have decided that if people commit crimes, they want them to go to jail.”

Oregon Senate Bill 48 took effect July 1 with the aim of reducing the criminal justice system’s reliance on the use of bail. It orders that defendants charged with a variety of misdemeanors and some felonies be released without bail.

“If the criminal sees that it’s just a revolving door to get right out, then there’s going to be less accountability because they may or may not show up to court,” Duncan said.

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Linn County sheriff Michelle Duncan says Oregon's new bail policies mean some repeat offenders and dangerous suspects are being released from custody before seeing a judge.

Linn County sheriff Michelle Duncan says Oregon’s new bail policies mean some repeat offenders and dangerous suspects are being released from custody before seeing a judge.
(Fox News Digital)

While Oregon has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country, its most populated city has seen a dramatic uptick in homicides and other crime in recent years. There were a record 90 homicides last year in Portland, and some property crimes such as vandalism and car theft have also increased over the past couple of years.

“What people don’t know about Oregon is most of us in Oregon don’t want to be compared to Portland,” said Duncan, who oversees the sheriff’s department in a rural county about 60 miles south of Portland. Linn County, she said, is “a conservative pocket that we expect bad people to go to jail.”

An order from Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha L. Walters summarizes the new pretrial release guidelines and directs sheriffs to hold defendants suspected of serious felonies such as murder and first degree assault, any sex crime, and any domestic violence felony or misdemeanor.

“Essentially, anyone arrested for committing a property crime such as theft, burglary, car theft, trespass, or a non-domestic violence assault, arson, unlawful purchase of a firearm and many other crimes, will not be able to be kept in jail any longer than it takes to process them,” the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a press release announcing the changes.

Linn County is outlined on a map of Oregon. The county's sheriff is one of several law enforcement officials criticizing the state's recently implemented bail reform policies.

Linn County is outlined on a map of Oregon. The county’s sheriff is one of several law enforcement officials criticizing the state’s recently implemented bail reform policies.
(Fox News photo illustration, Encyclopedia Britannica map/UIG via Getty Images)

Duncan said the guidance has turned many dangerous felonies and misdemeanors into catch-and-release crimes. For example, strangulation is generally a misdemeanor in Oregon unless it is committed in an act of domestic violence or the victim is under 10 years of age.

“Strangulation is a precursor, not just with domestic violence, but any violent crime, that you’re more likely to kill someone if you’re willing to strangle them,” Duncan said.

Defense lawyers and criminal justice reform advocates have called on the state to do away with cash bail entirely. In a letter of support for SB 48, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s policy director wrote that the bill doesn’t go far enough.

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“Cash bail is a deeply flawed method of determining who should and should not be detained pretrial,” MCDA Policy Director Aaron Knott wrote. “The injustice that this creates is most manifest on the higher and lower ends of the income spectrum, where an affluent person will most typically be able to procure their own release but an indigent or houseless person may find themselves detained for a failure to muster a surety of several hundred dollars.”

The Oregon District Attorney’s Association took a neutral stance on the bill. It passed the state legislature along party lines with Democrats supporting and Republicans opposing.

“It was definitely handed down from Salem for us,” Duncan said. “It literally took away the local control over who we can and cannot take into our jail.”

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In the few months since the bill took effect, Duncan said law enforcement has had to release a robbery suspect who beat up a loss prevention officer and a child neglect suspect whose 1-year-old child allegedly tested positive for cocaine. She called both “people that are a danger to our society.”

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan says citizens she's heard from are not fans of Oregon's new bail reform policies.

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan says citizens she’s heard from are not fans of Oregon’s new bail reform policies.
(Photo by: Don and Melinda Crawford/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The bill also removes law enforcement’s ability to hold people who are repeatedly arrested for crimes like trespassing or vehicle theft, Duncan said.

“A gentleman that has been a pretty problematic person for a number of years … was arrested for stealing a vehicle,” she said. “And lo and behold he now has a fail-to-appear warrant.”

Under the new policy, Duncan said attempting to assault an officer is no longer a holdable offense.

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“But if I simply pull away from you while you’re trying to arrest me, then that’s automatically a hold for resisting arrest,” she said, adding that the guidelines “just don’t make sense.”

Duncan said that as the midterm elections near, she hopes candidates who listen to law enforcement and smaller communities will be elected.

“A lot is riding on who ends up in legislation after this election period,” she said.

Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.

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