While the nation is roiled in a conflict over the proper role and conduct of law enforcement, Sisters is moving into an enhanced contract that is bringing a larger and more focused law enforcement presence to the community.

That, City Manager Cory Misley notes, is what the community said it desires.

“I think that there was a general sentiment… that that was what the community wanted,” he said.

Last summer, the City conducted a survey of city residents and businesses to gather data regarding their feelings on public safety and levels of law enforcement. The survey showed a willingness to pay more for increased and enhanced law-enforcement service, with 52.5 percent of respondents “very willing” or “somewhat willing,” while 23.9 percent were neutral, and 23.5 percent were “somewhat unwilling” or “very unwilling.”

The data gathered indicated that the one biggest perceived threat to public safety in Sisters as perceived by the respondents is traffic, with a 50.2 percent response, followed by property crimes at 22.5 percent and drugs at 12.8 percent.

Data did not show a significant increase in crime, especially serious crime, and Sisters remains a safe place by any measure — but Misley notes that people’s perception is that public safety in Sisters has “slipped.”

“The perception of public safety is very important,” Misley said. “Our conclusion is that we did need more police, and the question becomes how much more.”

The City of Sisters contract with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office was due for renewal, which made it an opportune time to revisit Sisters’ law enforcement services. While there was some sentiment in the community that Sisters should reconstitute its own police force, the financial, logistical and liability requirements to do so were daunting.

“I can say with confidence that having a police force… is a very large general fund expense for cities that have one,” Misley said. “We would have to essentially double what we’re contributing to law enforcement if we had our own police force.”

In actual dollar terms, that would be approximately $1.5 million rather than the $725,000 called for in the new, enhanced contract. And that is not counting start-up costs such as vehicle and equipment purchases.

The Sisters City Council signed the contract with the sheriff’s office at its March 11 meeting. The contract calls for Sisters to have a dedicated force of one lieutenant and three deputies.

The Sisters contingent will have distinct markings on its patrol cars.

More than simply having more deputies on the streets, the new program allows for considerably more local control. The deputies will be “Sisters” deputies, working in the local community. Consistency of staffing was a critical component of the agreement — as close an approximation to having its own police force as Sisters can realistically afford to come.

“They (citizens) want to know who (is) in those uniforms,” Misley said. “They want to know that they are working every day in our community… that they have relationships in this community…. People are going to see a difference and they’ll be getting to know deputies and getting to know a lieutenant that they’ll have a relationship with. They’re going to have a really good lay of the land, and that’s really valuable.”

Another critical element, according to Misley, is a community public safety plan, which will allow Sisters to determine its priorities for law enforcement.

“We’ve never had that in the past,” Misley said. “We will be creating that over the first year of the contract.”

The Sisters contingent remains under the command of Sheriff Shane Nelson, so local control is not absolute, and the City and the sheriff’s office will have to work together to determine priorities and how resources should be used.

“I don’t want to overstate these changes,” Misley said. “I think they’re substantial… but I don’t want to overstate that whatever we ask for we’re going to get.”

Misely feels that the new contract hits a sweet spot, the bottom line of which is that “this contract creates more law enforcement presence in Sisters, Oregon.”