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St. Helens PD releases annual report

Arrests spike following reduction in jail bed capacity, though link uncertain

MossThe St. Helens Police Department released an annual report last week containing statistics related to the department’s operations in 2013.

Among other data, the report, complied by St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss, shows an increase in adult and juvenile arrests beginning in July, when the Columbia County Jail decreased its inmate capacity from 65 to 25 beds for local inmates.

After the July arrest spike, the department’s adult arrest numbers remained above those of prior months throughout the rest of the year.

St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh said the reduction in jail beds could have resulted in the spike in arrests, but was reluctant to attribute the data to the bed reduction alone, saying he “hadn’t initially put those two dots together.”

“It could certainly be a contributing factor, you’re putting people right back on the street,” he said. “Crime is just one of those things that comes in waves.”

The data also suggest a decrease in the department’s case numbers over the past three years, but those figures apparently don’t mean the department has been any less busy.

“Only crimes and cases that fall into a certain category will generate case numbers,” said St. Helens Police Sgt. Phillip Edwards. “If you talk to any officer and ask if the work has lessened, they would say, ‘no.’ They’re working harder today than in years past. You’re just not tracking it by case number.”

The report also highlighted a high amount of traffic stops in July and August, as well as in November and September. Edwards said this may be due to the nature of officers’ work than for seasonal reasons, noting that officers are sometimes required to answer calls or carry out investigations rather than work traffic.

While arrest numbers and traffic stops increased at the end of the year, the department showed a decrease in calls for service. A call for service is a request for police service in which an officer is dispatched or an incident is found by an officer, the report states. The St. Helens Police Department received a total of 15,240 calls for service in 2013, a decrease of 714 from 2012.

The service call data, comparing numbers from 2012 to 2013, indicate theft was down from 467 calls to 422 calls, drug activity was up from 82 calls to 111 calls, suicide threats or attempts decreased from 108 calls to 78 calls and calls reporting prowlers increased from 45 to 56 in 2013.

The department eliminated its code enforcement position last June. As a consequence, the report states, enforcement was shifted from “proactive” to “complaint-driven.” Accompanying data suggest a marked decrease in animal, nuisance and parking code enforcement activity starting in June.

“The code enforcement officer was tasked with looking for violations. Now officers have to decide where that call they receive is prioritized,” Edwards said. “Where we might have looked for dogs running loose and might generate a case, now officers would only respond if called.”

A section of the report was dedicated to Lykos, the department’s pure-bred German shepherd canine officer. Lykos was deployed 14 separate times in 2013 and was responsible for the capture of five suspects. The dog recovered the handgun and clothing of a Scappoose bank robbery suspect in late November, the report states.

The St. Helens Police Department, as well as departments in Columbia City, Scappoose, Vernonia and Clatskanie, also replaced mobile data computers with Apple iPads in all the agencies’ patrol cars in March. The report indicates the replacement was possible because of a $68,000 grant from the Oregon State Homeland Security Grant Program.

“The iPads are less expensive, compact and are robust in technology that will continue to evolve as applications are developed,” the report states.

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