What happens when the money runs out, and you live in a rural county that can’t afford to pay its police? Let’s visit the Oregon countryside to find out:

On the evening of Oct. 30, 2013, a car traveling down a highway south of Cave Junction struck and killed Jarred Houston, 21, and Robert Calvin, 41. Four months later, their case remains unsolved.

A week after the hit-and-run, Aaron Clouser, 39, was stabbed to death and left in the middle of the street. His case remains unsolved as well.

The murders have left the small town seething with anger, but there are barely any detectives around to work the cases.

Economic woes have forced county governments in rural Oregon to slash law enforcement budgets to the point where police are almost non-existent. In Josephine County, where Cave Junction is, there are two patrol deputies tasked with covering 1,600 square miles.


I asked a barista at a coffee shack if she’d noticed any changes since the budget cuts in 2012.

“I’ve definitely noticed a difference since medical marijuana was allowed,” she said. “I mean, I don’t care what people do on their own time, but it just seems like it’s brought in a lot of riff-raff.”

Josephine County sits just above the so-called “Emerald Triangle,” the largest marijuana-growing area in the country. The Redwoods Highway that winds through the triangle terminates in Grants Pass.

In an old-school diner at the edge of town, the kind with a lunch counter and high-backed stools, I bought a copy of the local newspaper. Among the columns about buying your first horse and distemper outbreaks among local wildlife, there was perhaps the greatest newspaper crime blotter in America.

In addition to the usual rural disputes, the blotter noted several property crimes that were not responded to because they were “B.A.R.”—beyond available resources.

Criminality abhors a vacuum.