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Gas prices prompt rural Missouri sheriff to pull back on patrols

An Ozark County Sheriff's Deputy vehicle is shown in an official photo from the department's social media.
Ozark County Sheriff
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An Ozark County Sheriff's Deputy vehicle is shown in an official photo from the department's social media.

With average gasoline prices hovering above $4 per gallon, a rural Missouri sheriff said he was forced to make an emergency order.

Sheriff Cass Martin made the decision with regret. Last week, he issued an emergency order for Ozark County, located between Branson and West Plains on the Missouri-Arkansas line.

The new order says that until costs for fuel come down, Martin and his seven deputies will only answer calls related to violent felonies and misdemeanors. That means scaling back on patrol work.

"This is something that we’re seeing across the United States. We’re seeing issues within our economy,” Martin said.

Martin ran for office in 2020 as a Christian conservative with a law-and-order platform. During the campaign, he said he believed in “patrolling versus waiting for crimes to occur.”

But today, Martin says they must keep their budget from going off the rails.

“There was a lot of fuel going out," he told KSMU. "Well, with fuel being at $4.43 a gallon, versus when we had done the budget we had estimated the gas at $2.50, that’s a huge jump.”

As Martin issued his emergency order, federal data tracking showed average gas prices across the Midwest were up more than $1.57 since this time last year.

He said he and county commissioners are looking at solutions, including whether federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act could help his department’s budget.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs and investigations.