Lane County Commissioners Discuss COVID-19 and Military Surplus

The Lane County Board of Commissioners met with medical professionals and the Lane County Sheriff’s Office discuss COVID-19 and use of military grade weapons and vehicles 

As it gets colder out there and our nation tries to pull together, our community like many others has many pressing issues to face. The Dec. 1 Lane County Board of Commissioners’ morning meeting began with public comments, many of which were from volunteers with Egan Warming Center. 

After discussing the warming center, the meeting went on to focus on COVID-19 and military surplus for the Lane County Sheriff’s Office. 

Egan Warming Center is struggling this year as COVID-19 spreads throughout the community. On top of not having enough spaces as homelessness skyrockets, Egan is having a harder time getting volunteers. 

Kris McAlister of Springfield asked for help from the Board of Commissioners, and said Egan Center volunteers don’t have adequate COVID-19 tests for their volunteers or homeless people.

McAlister said, “I’m not asking y’all to open all your properties, I’m asking for resources and coordination for those who do the work. We have 26 people who have passed away this year, we have people who are needing support. If they are COVID positive or symptomatic, we are told to turn them away, and tell them that we are working on it.”

Lane County resident Heather Sielicki added, “I come before you today to request that the Lane County Events Center parking lot temporarily be used to fulfill critical needs. The space is large enough to accommodate multiple managed pods of non-congregate sheltered communities with adequate sanitation and nighttime security to project the rights of community members and neighborhoods.” 

Commissioner Pete Sorenson agreed with Sielicki and suggested the board advance the suggestion proposed by Sielicki. However County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky said the Lane Events Center has been used as an Egan site this year, and will continue to be, although closed last weekend as it wasn’t cold enough to open. Mokrohisky pointed out that these temporary shelters aren’t the solution, and we as a community need to do more.

“The solution is permanent support to housing, connecting individuals to services, and transitional and affordable housing. All of those things are what gets people off of the streets and back into a more stable situation in life,” Mokrohisky added.

The numbers of people with COVID-19 in Lane County has skyrocketed and has many in the medical profession worried. Lane County Senior Public Health Officer Dr. Patrick Luedtke said, “It was almost nine months ago that the first person in Lane County was identified with COVID-19. In the second week in September our numbers started to increase massively, by way of comparison it took six months to get our first 1,000 cases. It took 30 days to get from 2,000 to 3,000 cases, and it took 10 days to go from 3,000 to 4,000 cases.”

According to Luedtke the county has 4,462 cases as of Dec. 1, with 39 people in the hospital, which is a record for Lane County, and nine people in the ICU. This is problematic as Lane County has limited ICU beds, with 48 at PeaceHealth Riverbend, eight at PeaceHealth University District Hospital and 14 at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center. 

The next subject of the meeting was the Lane County Sheriff’s Offices report on its use and access to military equipment through the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) 1033 program. The 1033 program allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain unwanted military surplus equipment. The National Defense Authorization Act of 1997 allows transfer of access to Department of Defense equipment that may otherwise be destroyed. The Lane County Sheriff’s Office has received military surplus equipment for more than 30 years, even before LESO 1033 existed. 

Some examples of military surplus the county has received include helicopters, cold weather clothing, office supplies and equipment, optical resources, robotic cameras, firearms and armored vehicles. 

According to Lt. D.J. Mann “rescue vehicles have not been used during civil disturbances and protests by our jurisdiction. The only time they would be used is if the event was under attack of an active shooter and it was needed to respond to an active threat.” These vehicles are also used in emergency situations such as flooding and wildfires.

Commissioner Sorenson asked, “I’m wondering, sheriff, if you have looked at any guidance of any other law enforcement agencies where the civilian oversight is concerned for the use of the vehicles to put down lawful protests, and otherwise intrude on the public’s right to assemble and have political protests.”

“It is our policy that we wouldn’t use these vehicles related to any public disorder,” Sheriff Clifton Harrold said. “But it is something we might have staged somewhere in case it turns into an issue with an armed suspect.”

The Board of Commissioners also heard from county spokesperson Devon Ashbridge about the efforts during the morning session. “Its website means to be a one stop recourse for Holiday Farm Fire survivors for any services that the county may be involved in providing, as well as links to financial assistance,” she said.

LESO program vehicle photos courtesy LCSO.