Police, Courts Have Fewer Options in Dealing with Civil Disobedience

Article excerpt

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

If war brings massive arrests for civil disobedience to Eugene in coming weeks, the protesters will place a heavy load on a rickety criminal justice system.

Agencies from police to jails to courts don't have contingency budgets to cover a big spike in their case loads, and the demand would send them pleading to lawmakers for money.

Eugene police can't count on the backup they once had from Oregon State Police and the Lane County sheriff's office because of layoffs. The Lane County Jail can't hold protesters for more than one business day because of budget cuts.

And it's likely to be July at the earliest before Lane County Circuit Court can take the cases, Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Mortimore said.

"We need a way to process those cases," he said. "We need a court system that's there and ready to do what it's supposed to do."

Eugene anti-war activists, meanwhile, say they expect incidents of civil disobedience to increase in the next few weeks and include activities likely to result in arrests, though few would reveal their specific plans.

When the time comes, Eugene police will have less backup because Oregon State Police are still down 89 officers since January - despite recent call-backs, said Sgt. Mike Bloom of the Springfield patrol office.

In January 1991, for comparison, the night before the Desert Storm bombing began, protesters blocked Interstate 5 near the Franklin Boulevard exit. Sixty State Police officers were on the scene within an hour; today the agency could muster about 30, Bloom said.

And that, he said, assumes the agency hasn't already been tapped to handle protesters in Portland, which it was last Saturday when Eugene police arrested seven people who blocked a street during a demonstration here.

Eugene police also have fewer options about what to do with protesters. Officers, in consultation with their supervisors, must decide whether to cite and release demonstrators or take them to the county jail for booking.

Whether the jail has space to hold the protesters will enter into the officers' decision-making, police spokeswoman Pam Olshanski said. The department's goal is to accommodate peaceful and lawful demonstrators, but arrests may be used to slow the momentum of civil disobedience, she said.

The jail, meanwhile, is strapped since losing 10 deputy positions and 35 beds in January. The institution's 450 beds are constantly full, with inmates waiting in holding cells for every bed that opens, jail manager John Clague said.

But the jail will do its best to manage mass arrests by declaring an emergency and suspending the cap on the number of inmates the jail can hold, he said.

Clague said he could pack 30 or 40 in booking cells, then lock down the regular inmates and begin bedding down protesters on mattresses in jail day rooms. …