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In St. Helens, community takes hand in policing

Officers at the St. Helens Police Department have had their work cut out for them over the last two months.

In the span of a 60-day period from July to September, officers made 369 traffic stops, assisted other agencies 190 times and investigated 176 reports of suspicious people.

The most heavily reported crime since July has been domestic abuse, with 93 calls of possible abuse taking place.

Since May, the St. Helens Police Department began moving forward on a more detailed accounting of police activity throughout the city in lead up to a six-month study, which will be used to assess police staffing levels. In July that study started in earnest, and it's set to complete in December.

The study is part of a partnership between the police department and a graduate student at Portland State University's criminal justice program, where Lt. Terry Moss and Sgt. Rick Graham are adjunct instructors.

Now, the preliminary figures are available, and in the two-month period from July to September the public initiated more than 59 percent of all police officer activity by calling the police department to report possible crimes, Moss said.

'I think that goes to show that our community is involved in reporting crimes,' he said.

The number of domestic abuse calls appears high, Moss said. But he added that in his estimation only one in five of those calls results in an arrest or citation.

Those calls remain among the most common 'priority one' calls for the police department, however.

Call-ins are collated into three priorities. The first priority is the most significant and typically requires immediate police action.

Moss said he hopes that by studying the types of calls the department receives, and the average response time for each, the department will have a better understanding how to coordinate staffing in the future, especially in light of growing revenue shortfalls within the city.

The study will help the department determine how much time officers can set aside for patrols and school outreach, work that is not the result of a call-in report, Moss said.

'We're going to look at it for the next four months and come up with a snap shot of what we're doing,' he said.