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Crime stats: a return to normal

Crime is on the rise again in Columbia County.

According to information compiled through the District Attorney's Office, there were 40 more felonies committed in 2007 than in 2006, from 347 to 387 - an 11 percent increase. Misdemeanors also rose, increasing 4 percent, from 411 to 428.

While any bump in the numbers translates into a significant drain on the already-overburdened District Attorney's Office, the numbers so far fall short of 2005's crime spike.

'I think we're getting back up to normal, frankly,' said Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison. 'You get these little spikes and valleys based on police activity and what's going on in the community.'

The big spike occurred in 2005, when Atchison's office logged a total 431 felonies and 499 misdemeanors.

The report of increasing crime strikes a discordant note for the county as it faces decreasing revenue due to the dry up of a federal timber bill payment that provided the county with $2.5 million annually.

During a similar funding crisis last year, the county was looking at the possibility of reducing its workforce by more than 20 jobs, some of those in the district attorney's office.

With crime on the rise, any funding cut could force diminished prosecution of nonviolent crime and put a halt to county legal representation for certain types of child welfare cases.

Atchison said he believes methamphetamine remains at the core of much of the crime occurring in Columbia County.

In 2005, Oregon legislators took action to curb homegrown methamphetamine labs by imposing restrictive measures on how people can acquire specific drugs, including ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, used as ingredients in methamphetamine manufacturing.

'There is a marked decrease in methamphetamine production in Columbia County, and I think that we owe that directly to the legislation that made those precursor drugs more difficult to acquire,' said Sgt. Phillip Edwards, the unit commander for the Columbia Enforcement Narcotics Team.

In 2007, Edwards said evidence for only two methamphetamine production labs was found. The labs, called 'box labs' due to the manufacture of the drug in portable containers such as coolers, were of an older variety and were dumped in the north county.

Methamphetamine abuse still exists, largely fed by Mexican methamphetamine labs trafficked into the United States through the same channels that supplied cocaine and heroin in the 1970s and 1980s, Edwards said.

The drug's availability is on the wane, and what is available is of lowered purity and higher price.