SALEM, Ore. - Law enforcement officials are expressing major concerns about the possibility of losing the Oregon State Police's Patrol Division after the Legislature requested a study to determine the benefits of turning as many as 329 state patrol troopers into county deputies. A brief note in the Oregon State Police 2005-07 budget by the Legislature instructs the Department of Administrative Services and the Legislative Fiscal Office to "study the potential benefits, costs and impacts of transferring all or a portion of the activities of the Patrol Division to county sheriffs." "We're basically looking to see if there's a better way to prevent duplication of services," said Fawn McNeely, communications director for the House Majority Office of Rep. Wayne Scott, R-Canby, chairman of the budget committee. "All agencies have been asked to look at the ways they operate and if there are ways to do so more efficiently." Scott and Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, added the budget note into Oregon State Police's budget, which was passed in August at $519.1 million, $84.7 million of which went toward the patrol division. McNeely said there are "hundreds" of budget notes which are often placed within the budget as items the Legislature may want to investigate in all of the state department's budgets. Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, said the Oregon State Police's leadership has taken a different direction, which has received negative reviews from legislative officials. "I think (the budget note is) all a part of the history here with Oregon State Police," Nelson said. "It's all a part of the leadership and the direction the department is going." But the mere thought of losing the patrol division has some state police officials worried. "The question is not whether it could be done, but one in which one must consider the impacts of making such a choice," said state police Superintendent Ronald Ruecker. "We're a state trying to deal with a resource issue, not a roles and responsibility issue. Thus, the solution is one of resources, not abdicating our responsibilities." Secretary of State Bill Bradbury has requested an audit of the state police department, a move that McNeely said was "completely separate" from the budget note. However, Nelson said the two actions could have a connection. Dan Swift, president of the Oregon State Police Officers' Association, said he believes the two are "definitely" connected. While he said he's "not much for conspiracy theories," he believes the Legislature has too much going against Oregon State Police all at the same time. "I'd like to know what vendetta the Legislature has against the Oregon State Police," Swift said. "First, all the budget cuts, then there's this budget note, now the audit. What does the Legislature have against us?" McNeely and Nelson warn against jumping on the issue of ridding the state police of its patrol division too quickly. "Budget notes are in no way force and effect," Nelson said. "It's just looking at money and how it should be spent. We're still in a budget crunch here, and the Legislature is in a position where we have to balance the needs of health care, education and public safety." However, Nelson said he believes it would be "difficult" to roll the patrol division over to sheriffs' offices that already are in the midst of budget crunches. If sheriffs' offices absorbed trooper positions, they'd have to police the state highways plus the county roads they already patrol. In addition, county offices likely wouldn't receive enough funding to support the extra patrol deputies coming from the Oregon State Police, said Umatilla County Sheriff John Trumbo. "There'd be issues with contracts because most troopers make more money than sheriffs' deputies," Trumbo said. Any additional money that would come from the state also wouldn't support other services the sheriffs' offices already struggle to provide with the limited funding they receive. "OSP also provides a large presence around this state, assisting with other agencies and providing a valuable service," Nelson added. Ruecker agreed. He said most of the agency's 329 patrol troopers have more than one specialty, such as accident reconstruction and SWAT skills or are members of the Mobile Response Team. In a statement to the Legislature in March, Ruecker said while "it is true that any police officer can write traffic tickets," state troopers can perform a variety of functions. One of those functions is assisting local law enforcement agencies. "One of the primary benefits of having a statewide uniformed law enforcement capacity is to support local communities in times of need," Ruecker said. Trooper Brandi Zeckman, the Oregon State Police Officers' Association representative for Region 4 in Eastern Oregon, said she believes rural Eastern Oregon would receive the greatest negative impacts if the patrol division were handed over to sheriffs' offices. "The State Police has a large presence in rural areas because there are fewer law enforcement agencies and fewer resources out here," Zeckman said. There are just 10 troopers in Pendleton's Oregon State Police Office, five in the Hermiston office and one in the Milton-Freewater office. Two of the Hermiston troopers will retire next month. Gov. Ted Kulongoski has said he supports keeping the patrol division within Oregon State Police, said Anna Richter-Taylor, the governor's press aide. "In any discussion regarding Oregon State Police, the governor reminds us that the state police was born out of a need for highway patrols in this state," Richtor-Taylor said. "The governor believes strongly that the state police should maintain a patrol function." Before the 2005 legislative session, Kulongoski gave the Legislature a proposed state police budget that asked for more troopers. Instead, legislators cut 20 patrol troopers. Since 1979, state patrols have been cut by nearly 50 percent. In 1979, when the department was removed from the State Highway Fund, there were 665 sworn patrol members. Today, there are 329.