Woman Raped Because Cash-Strapped Police Couldn't Afford to Send Help

Late last August, a woman in Josephine County, Oregon, called 911 and pleaded for help when her abusive ex-boyfriend, who had put her in the hospital only a few weeks before, tried to break into her house. The dispatcher, however, had no one to send. The local sheriff's department had recently lost millions in federal funds, forcing them to make a few vital changes such as laying off 23 of its 29 deputies and limiting their availability from just 8 a.m to 4 p.m on Mondays through Fridays. So when the woman called at 4:58 a.m on a Saturday morning, no one was available to help her. Her ex-boyfriend eventually found a way to pry the front door open and rape her.

Initially, when the woman called the dispatcher and found no available local law enforcement, the dispatcher transferred her to the state police. The state police dispatcher's response, however, was just the same. In the words of the police dispatcher, "Uh, I don’t have anybody to send out there. You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away? Do you know if he’s intoxicated or anything?"

And when it became clear that no one was coming to help her, despite the very real threat right outside her door, she responded, “Yeah, it doesn’t matter, if he gets in the house I’m done."

According to police records, Michael Bellah, the ex-boyfriend, broke into her house just minutes later, choked her and sexually assaulted her. He was arrested later that day by state police.

The sheriff of Josephine County, refusing to comment on this particular case, added that cases such as these, where 911 calls were not responded to, weren't common for victims of crime in his county. 

"There isn’t a day go by that we don’t have another victim," he said, faulting the lack of federal funds and budget cuts that went into effect last May that led to a law enforcement deficit. The cuts had resulted when a multi-million dollar annual federal aid payment for timber-dependent counties, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, had expired. 

When the cuts went into effect, and the program was forced to lay off most of its deputies and limit its hours, the sheriff had released a press statement urging victims of domestic violence to "consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services."

He also added that law enforcement could only respond, “If it’s an immediate threat, or a serious physical injury has happened ... Our response time may be limited or delayed based on other calls, because I don’t have the resources.”

Moreover, although Josephine County is a direct example of the affects of the budget cuts, over 700 counties in 41 states had benefited from the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. And now, with the lack of funding, the public safety needs of the residents of those counties are more endangered than ever.