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Sheriff's office has reduced the number of misdemeanors that place offenders behind bars to avoid overcrowding

PMG FILE PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - After checking for valid fare, Transit Police Officer Curtis Brown arrests a man on an identity-theft charge.When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S., the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office reduced the number of misdemeanors that would place offenders behind bars in order to mitigate overcrowding amid the rapidly spreading virus.

The jail's policies have remained in flux as the pandemic has unfolded, which, according to Oregon City Police Department Capt. Shaun Davis, has "limited" OCPD's ability to serve the public.

CCSO Capt. Lee Eby said the Clackamas County Jail currently books all felonies and violent misdemeanors, but whether or not they lock up nonviolent offenders is at the jail's discretion.

"Basically, felonies come in, and misdemeanors will depend upon whether or not they're violent or the statute requires them to," Eby said.

Eby said the policies are subject to change based upon the ever-changing COVID-19 state guidelines and mandates.

"We kind of ebb and flow based on the risk factors," Eby said. "There's been changes, much like the state, you know, depending upon what's been going on with COVID."

Eby did not specify further which crimes the jail is currently booking people for, but a felony offense in Oregon is defined as a violation of criminal nature punishable by a minimum sentence of one year. The National Institute of Justice defines a "violent crime" as any crime where "a victim is harmed by or threatened with violence."

While crimes such as murder, assault, rape and others fall under this umbrella, the jail at one point stopped booking people for crimes including driving under the influence, according to Davis.

"At one point DUIs weren't allowed," Davis said, adding that policies have since updated to allow impaired drivers to be put behind bars.

Davis described a "frequent occurrence" where his officers are only able to to issue court citations for crimes instead of arresting them.

"There are definitely concerns about people committing crimes like theft, and then we had to just give them citations to appear in court," Davis said. "We had to give them a signed release because the jail wouldn't accept them."

According to Davis, even when this led to repeat offenses, officers were still at times unable to do any more than issue citations.

"We saw people continue to commit crimes, and we had to arrest them over and over again, and then we'd have to explain to the public and some victims about the jail policies," Davis said. "A lot of people we arrested actually had warrants for their arrest, signed by a judge, but we would have to just give them a citation to appear in court."

Raymond Rendleman, editor of the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News, contributed to this report.

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