Pubdate: Sun, 24 Sep 2006
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2006 The Register-Guard
Author: Matt Cooper
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Statistics Tell A Complicated Story When It Comes To Lawlessness In Lane County

When a cop makes a bust for methamphetamine in Douglas County, the 
trail to the supplier consistently takes that cop one county to the 
north: Lane County.

That's where the big dealers are, said Lt. Curt Strickland, commander 
of the Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team - dealers who sell a pound 
or more of the stuff at a time - enough to provide a three-day fix 
for about 130 users.

Problem is, those dealers can't be lured to Douglas County for an arrest.

"They know they're safer up there than they are if they travel out," 
Strickland said. "And it's just because of lack of pressure."

Illegal drug use and alcohol abuse are at the heart of crime in Lane 
County, public safety officials say. They want voters on Nov. 7 to 
approve a countywide income tax to raise $27 million annually to 
fight drug abuse and all its effects.

But is the crime rate bad here? The answer is complicated.

Property crimes such as car theft and burglary are high. But violent 
crimes such as murder and aggravated assault are low. Rates for 
violent and property crime have dropped steadily here for nine years; 
but local officials, citing the latest numbers, say crime is now on the rise.

Voters will answer the question definitively in six weeks: Is crime 
in Lane County so severe that it merits a costly new tax?

Drug Abuse

On Sept. 10, a Lane County sheriff's deputy happened upon a speeder 
in Springfield. During the arrest, the officer also found marijuana, 
ecstasy, scales, plastic bags and almost $6,000 in cash - all the 
trappings of a dealer.

"It's got to be weekly that these cases are happening," said Lt. 
Randy Smith, of the Lane County Sheriff's Office.

The rate of arrests for drug abuse in Lane County - possession, 
dealing, manufacturing and the like - was much higher than state and 
national rates between 1994 and 2002. Also, Lane's rate surged 46 
percent during that period while the national and state rates held steady.

On the other hand, Lane's rate, which peaked in 2003 at 112 
drug-abuse arrests per 10,000 adults, apparently dropped in each of 
the past two years, according to preliminary numbers. By comparison, 
the same preliminary numbers show that state and national rates 
climbed twice from 2002 through 2004, with the national rate cresting 
at 70 arrests per 10,000 adults, while the local rate had fallen to 
108 per 10,000 adults by 2004.

It's important to note: Preliminary numbers have not yet been 
confirmed by the FBI, and may change for better or worse.

Numbers that won't change, however, show that between 1991 and 2003 
Lane County's problem with drugs was more severe - and rose slightly 
faster - than the situation in a comparable county to the north, 
Marion, which includes the Salem area.

Lane saw a surge in drug-abuse offenses of 157 percent, while Marion 
suffered a 99 percent jump. Lane's rate in 2003 - 106 offenses per 
10,000 in population - was much higher than Marion's 72 offenses per 10,000.

On the other hand, Lane County's problem with meth labs has dropped 

Between 1998 and 2005, more methamphetamine labs were seized here - 
an average of 51 per year - than in any Oregon county except Multnomah.

But the number of lab seizures here plunged 85 percent over that 
period. Oregon State Police credit this to new state laws that fight 
the manufacturing of meth.

Violent Crime

On June 20, three men abducted a man at gunpoint in Springfield, 
drove him to a forested area near Marcola, stole his wallet and 
jewelry, shot him and left him for dead. The sheriff's office had 
three detectives available, and they went into overdrive working leads.

Then five days later, an elderly man was killed in a bar fight near 
Eugene. At that point, said Smith, of the sheriff's office, his 
department had to pull officers from home and send supervisors 
chasing after leads in other states to handle both cases.

"Had we had another major case during that time frame, we might not 
have been able to work it," Smith said. "You've got to get your folks 
some rest."

Lane County and its cities have among the lowest number of officers 
per population of any county in Oregon, a state with the lowest 
officer ratio in the country, officials said.

Officials say a surge in violent crime is stretching the sheriff's 
office to the limit. But violent crime dropped steadily here for nine 
years through 2004, and it's difficult to say what the trend is now. 

That's due, in part, to differences in the way local and federal 
officials count violent crimes. Lane County, for example, counts 
attempted crimes, such as attempted murder, while federal officials do not.

Lane public safety officials say violent crime is up, noting a 4 
percent jump last year in serious offenses (homicide, rape, robbery 
and aggravated assault). But the FBI reported that the rate here 
continued a 10-year drop in 2005, to 25 such crimes per 10,000 
people; the national rate was 47 per 10,000.

Meanwhile, the 2005 total for "crimes against people" in Lane County 
- - homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated and simple assault, sex 
offenses and kidnapping - dropped 4.6 percent in 2005, according to 
local public safety data.

Public safety officials warn that serious violent crime is up sharply 
so far in 2006, but it's hard to say whether a long-term trend is emerging.

Property Crime

On Aug. 25, a Noti-area resident who had just been burglarized called 
the sheriff's office with the name of a suspect and the pawn shop 
where his stereo speakers ended up. What have the police done?

Nothing. The county's sole property-crime detective is tied up with 
bigger cases. "Here's a chance to recover property and hold somebody 
accountable," Smith said, "but we can't get to it."

The rate of serious property crime here - motor vehicle theft, 
larceny-theft and burglary - dropped steadily between 1995 and 2004, 
then rose in 2005. That rate has been consistently above state and 
national rates.

Lane's property-crime rate compared poorly with similar-sized 
counties nationwide in 2005. The county's rate was worse than 97 
percent of similar counties for motor vehicle theft, worse than 88 
percent of the others for larceny-theft, and worse than 77 percent of 
the rest for burglary.

But compare the trends in Lane and Marion, and Lane doesn't look that bad.

Marion County's total property crime rate was higher than Lane's for 
a 12-year period ending in 2003. That year, Marion suffered 951 
property crimes per 10,000; Lane, only 696 per 10,000.

Property crime here rose from 2004 to 2005, but that doesn't 
establish a long-term trend. The numbers for arson, forgery and 
stolen property were down, while the totals for serious property 
crimes - burglary, theft, and car theft - and the larger group of all 
property crimes were up 19 percent each.

Public Reaction

Regardless of individual numbers, public safety officials say the big 
picture is bad and getting worse: Lane County's totals for violent 
and property crime in 2005 were higher than 89 percent of 
similar-sized counties nationwide, and up significantly from 2004, 
according to federal statistics quoted by local officials.

Nevertheless, officials face an uphill battle to convince voters that 
crime is up, the system is broken and an income tax is necessary.

In annual polls by the city of Eugene the past three years, the vast 
majority of residents have said they feel "very safe" or "somewhat 
safe" walking alone in neighborhoods and business areas after dark.

Also, 37 percent of respondents to a county poll in June 
characterized the public safety system as "good" or "excellent," and 
46 percent said the system is "fair," meaning average. Just 11 
percent said the system is in crisis.

Springfield resident Mike Gregory, 49, is among those who believe 
that crime is not that bad here. His house was burglarized years ago; 
if anything, Gregory said, crime "is less now than it was."

Gregory called "ludicrous" District Attorney Doug Harcleroad's recent 
prediction of a crime surge in 2006. "It was obviously just trying to 
sway the vote" for the income tax, Gregory said.

In fact, one county leader makes a point of distinguishing between 
violent crime and property crime in reference to the income-tax proposal.

"Most people, when they think of crime, they think of personal and 
violent crime," Commissioner Pete Sorenson said. "In that sense, the 
crime problem is a serious problem, but I don't think it rises to the 
level of a crisis.

"It's more a function of failing to deal with the persistent problem 
of drug abuse and the long lines to get people rehabilitated," he 
added. "To me, that's the reason for this (income tax) measure."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman