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Gresham's violent crime rate second only to Portland's in state

FBI: City has seen 16.5 increase in violent crime


How bad is crime in Gresham? It depends on who you ask.

Folks in town have different viewpoints, and a handful shared their thoughts with The Outlook.

Trena Panza has lived in the Rockwood neighborhood almost all her life. She works at her parents’ business, Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant, near Stark Street and 181st Avenue, a neighborhood fixture, and says she doesn’t think crime is getting worse.

“There’s more crime because of more people, but East County is still a great place to live,” she said.

A few blocks west on Stark, the manager of a convenience store, who didn’t want his name used, said the neighborhood is better since the city has made improvements in Rockwood, such as the art installations at the MAX TriMet station at Stark Street and 188th Avenue.

“I can’t say it’s 100 percent better, but when I call the cops it is a 70 percent decrease,” he said. “It’s getting better with things like the new court house and police station, but it will still be bad this summer. There are still a lot of problems.”

As he stood waiting for a bus at the TriMet station across the street, Jay Richards said he’s seen some positive changes in the neighborhood in the more than three years he’s lived there.

“Things are nicer and I feel like they’re getting better,” he said. “When I first got here it was pretty bad, with people standing on the corner, drinking and starting fights, but it seems like it’s mellowed out a little now.”

Juliet McClellan, who got off the MAX train at the station with her son, Ramone Milmean, 6, said she and her husband have fed and clothed many homeless people, and as a former property manager in Rockwood, she said sometimes Gresham police officers have handled situations with homeless people too harshly.

“If you’re going to do something about the homeless, first they need a place to stay,” she said.

As he sat outside a downtown restaurant having lunch, Eric Carter said after living in Gresham for nine years, he doesn’t think crime is “noticeably worse.” But even though he lives in a low-crime Gresham Butte neighborhood, he recently had a bicycle stolen from the back of his car.

Carter said he is a former volunteer for the city’s advisory committee on parks, and he supports a city property tax levy that will be on the May 20 ballot to help fund police and fire departments as well as parks.

“I think it’s important to have a dedicated fund for all that city infrastructure,” he said.

A few blocks down Main Avenue, Dustin Van Doozer enjoyed his coffee in the sunshine and said he’s seen crime get worse in the 15 years he’s lived here.

“I think it’s a lot worse,” he said. “I’ve seen more property crimes and more cars broken into and stolen.”

Van Doozer said he’s aware of gang activity and he’s seen “quite a bit” of drug deals in the downtown area.

“I’ve seen some shady deals,” he said.

Inside the coffee shop, Lane Nelson, 18, said he grew up in the Barlow High area and moved to the downtown area about four months ago. He worries that crime is up, and said his car window had been broken out the night before.

“I feel like the older I get, the more things I’m aware of, and coming to own more things and having more responsibility, I’m much more aware of my surroundings, and I think it’s bad,” he said.

Nelson said his mother worked as a bookkeeper at Gresham High for 15 years and went on a “ride-along” with Gresham police last year.

“She was dumbfounded by the crime and was amazed by all they do,” he said. “They have calls for abuse, for drugs, for robberies, all in one night. A lot of people don’t realize all the police have to do.”

But the numbers don’t lie, and Uniform Crime Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and city-data.com show while violent crime is down in Portland, it’s up in Gresham.

The FBI report states that between 1985 and 2012, Portland saw a dramatic drop — 78 percent — in violent crimes. Eugene saw a reduction of 26 percent in violent crimes for the same period. Salem’s violent crime rate, however, went up by 43 percent for the same period, and Gresham’s violent crime rate went up 19 percent.

Gresham and Salem also showed “substantial increase” in property crimes from 2011 to 2012, the FBI report states, while Portland and Eugene showed an increase of less than 2 percent.

In his state of the city address in February, Mayor Shane Bemis talked about crime and the need for the new levy to replace a temporary flat tax to help fund police and fire departments as well as parks.

“If we keep doing exactly what we are doing, I can promise you that the issues we face with gangs and poverty will go from threatening our future to defining who we are,” he said.

Chris Gorsek, professor of criminal justice at Mt. Hood Community College and District 49 state representative, looked at the FBI data and said the mayor is not off-base.

“What I have found seems to support the mayor’s claim that Gresham has some serious crime problems,” said Gorsek, who also is a former police officer. “It appears that Gresham is second behind Portland in terms of violent crime among the four (largest cities in the state).”

In ranking cities as far as how dangerous they are to live in, with higher scores indicating more danger, the city-data.com report quoted by Gorsek for 2012 shows Gresham had an overall score of 386.6 while Portland’s was 392.6. Fairview’s score was 210.3, Troutdale’s was 259.1, Sandy’s score was 258.2 and Milwaukie’s score was 167.9.

For violent crime, in 2012 Gresham had a rating of 259.9 in 2012 while Portland’s rate was 278.7. The U.S. average was 214.1.

Property crimes in Gresham for 2012 were given a rating of 436.7 for 2012 compared to the U.S. average of 266.5, and was higher than Portland’s rate of 420.3.

But Gresham’s property crime rating has fluctuated somewhat and fallen more or less steadily from a high of 617.1 in 2004, as has Portland’s, which was 679.9 in 2004.

The report also states that for every 1,000 residents, Gresham has 1.11 police officers while the state average is 1.57. Portland has 1.62 officers per 1,000 people.

The FBI hasn’t released its Uniform Crime Report for 2013 yet, but issued a briefing paper last year that looks at crime rates from 2011 to 2012 in the state’s four largest cities: Portland, Eugene, Salem and Gresham.

The report states that violent crime decreased in Eugene from 2011 to 2012 by 6.5 percent while it increased in Salem by 7.9 percent. Violent crime in Portland increased by only 1.8 percent, while violent crime in Gresham increased by 16.5 percent over the same period, the largest by far.

While the Rockwood neighborhood has traditionally had a higher crime rate, crime is being spread out over the city more, especially when it comes to gangs, Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger said at a recent city-sponsored gang summit.

“We have gang activity not just in Rockwood, but it’s permeated from north to south and from east to west,” he said.

Gangs used to be defined by their turf, Junginger said, but those territorial lines are now gone and gangs are mobile and all over town, mostly using public transportation.

“It’s all about drugs and the narcotics trade and human trafficking,” he said.

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