An Oregon Town Can't Afford a Police Force, So Regular People Are Taking Over

The team of citizen crime-watchers can purportedly spot "hardcore criminals" on looks alone.
Security camera

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A small town of less than 2,000 people in southern Oregon doesn’t have the money for a full-time police force. Instead, it might allow regular citizens to access new security cameras so they can monitor the town.

The local sheriff’s department monitors Cave Junction, Oregon, during weekdays, but a group of crime-watching volunteers called Cave Junction Patrol will take over at night. They’ll use eight new security cameras, to be installed on the town’s street lights, according to the Oregonian.


The citizen patrol, whose members do not undergo background checks, is capable of spotting “hardcore criminals” on looks alone, as Cave Junction City Recorder Rebecca Patton told Jefferson Public Radio. But they don't make any arrests themselves; they refer people to the sheriff's department.

“They can identify them by the way that they dress, because they have a certain apparel that they wear all the time, or the way they walk,” Patton told the public radio station. “Sometimes they carry things all the time — it could be something as simple as a skateboard. They have learned how to identify these people very, very quickly, then they know how to respond.”

“Cave Junction Patrol is neither law enforcement nor vigilantes,” the group says on its Facebook page, and members could soon be subject to background checks, according to Jefferson Public Radio. The group largely watches for property crime and does not “involve ourselves in major crimes requiring the presence of law enforcement,” it says.

The presence of the group, which already conducts regular street patrols, is considered necessary by some in the city because calls to local police after dark tend to go unanswered for at least 45 minutes, according to Jefferson Public Radio. The town has failed to pass ballot measures that would fund a police force through higher taxes, according to the Oregonian.

Cave Junction’s mayor and city council unanimously approved the proposal for allowing the group broad access to security camera footage last month but still needs authorization from Josephine County, where the town is based.

The area’s budgetary woes and thin law enforcement resources are nothing new. Josephine County actually encouraged a citizen patrol of crime scene investigators, and the sheriff acknowledged in a 2014 Oregonian article that he no longer had the capacity to investigate property crimes.

Cities and their respective police forces increasingly use surveillance technology to monitor crime, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. That’s spawned privacy concerns in towns like Newark, New Jersey, where non-law enforcement personnel have access to live security feeds. And, similar to Cave Junction, some cities like Lancaster, Pennsylvania, have encouraged “crime watch” groups to use those surveillance feeds to alert actual police to any wrongdoing.

Cover image: Dennis Aglaster / EyeEm via Getty Images