Woodburn police chief highlights increasing property crime caused by drug addiction

COURTESY GRAPHIC - This graph shows that while arrests may have gone down in 2017, the number of offenses have increased over the past two years.Criminal offenses in Woodburn increased by 17.3 percent last year, according to year-end data provided by the Woodburn Police Department in the Jan. 22 City Council packet. Property crimes and certain violent crimes have gone up, many of which police Chief Jim Ferraris said are fueled by increasingly pervasive drug addictions in the community.

Each year, the department publishes the total number of criminal offenses reported to the department, along with the total number of arrests made each year. In 2017, there were 4,244 criminal offenses logged by the department, the highest number since at least 2010 and a significant increase from the 2016 total of 3,618.

Many property crimes saw increases last year. Burglaries from businesses were reported 42 times, a 55.56 percent increase from the prior year. Theft from buildings was reported 70 times, a 42.86 increase. Theft from a motor vehicle increased 30.17 percent, to 151 offenses. Unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle rose 28.92 percent to 84 cases. And other property crimes, like shoplifting and burglaries from residences, increased, too.

Ferraris said a concerning trend is the rising rate of auto theft in the city, a crime that's seen a 145 percent increase since 2013. Last year, 147 cases were reported — a big leap from the 60 reported in 2013.

"It has increased exponentially," Ferraris said.

Ferraris said there are two main causes he's identified. The first is drug addiction, especially to meth and opioids, which Ferraris said is "fueling all property crime, including auto theft." The second is a 2014 Oregon Court of Appeals ruling that set a precedent making it much more difficult for car thieves to be prosecuted. Now, prosecutors must prove that a person found in a stolen car had knowing intent that the car was stolen.

"The only way you're going to get that is through some admission," Ferraris said. "And the likelihood of that is pretty low. And word gets around."

Ferraris said the department is currently conducting a review of the last five years of auto theft cases in Woodburn to see whether there are any patterns. That could include looking at where cars are being stolen, whether the thefts are committed more often at certain times of the day or week, what kind of vehicles are being stolen and who the offenders are — whether they're previous offenders and whether they're on probation or parole.

After that review is complete, Ferraris said the department will provide more detailed information to the community about how to prevent car theft. But in the meantime, he said there are universal precautions residents can take to reduce the likelihood of auto theft.

"Don't leave your car running with the keys in the ignition," Ferraris said, adding that it's not uncommon, especially in the winter, for residents to do just that. "People want their cars warm, so they go outside to start it in the driveway, defrost the windows … and lo and behold, they come out after going inside to get their coffee and their car's gone."

Ferraris also suggests residents use a steering wheel club, have a car alarm system, keep their cars in a well-lit area and garage them if possible.

Most cars stolen in Woodburn are used for transportation, not for selling the stolen cars or their parts, Ferraris said. And while the department is still determining whether any trends exist among what kinds of cars are stolen, Ferraris warned that Hondas made before 1998, along with older Toyota models, are notoriously easy to steal with shaved keys.

Ferraris said many other property crimes on the rise in Woodburn are often committed by people with addictions. Forgery, which increased by 45 percent last year, is an example.

"Forgers are notorious for being drug-affected," Ferraris said.

In addition, fraud involving credit cards and ATMs nearly doubled last year, with 53 cases reported.

Certain violent crimes increased in 2017, too. That included aggravated assault, which increased 66.67 percent in 2017, with 65 total offenses, along with simple assault, which increased by 8.5 percent. Forcible rape increased by 50 percent, rising to 21 total offenses.

Ferraris said domestic violence is also a problem in Woodburn. Domestic violence isn't an offense specified in the crime data, but the number of noncriminal domestic disturbance calls, in which officers respond and intervene but don't arrest anyone, are tracked by the department. Last year, 157 cases were reported, a 166.1 percent increase from the prior year.

And Ferraris said that even though the crime rates don't reflect an increase in most sex crimes, sex abuse, especially family-based sex abuse, continues to be a problem in the community. Molestation cases did increase in 2017, with 29 cases reported to the department, a 79.59 percent increase from the prior year.

Other crimes more frequently reported in 2017 include disorderly conduct, which was reported 107 times last year, a 57.35 percent increase.

"That's often people who are under the influence that are acting out. That's a pretty common reason for that," Ferraris said. He added that behavior-related offenses are often committed by people with mental illnesses that are sometimes accompanied by drug addiction.

And vandalism is up by about 5 percent, with 379 total offenses last year. Misdemeanor hit-and-runs increased, too, by 15.38 percent, with 195 total.

Even though Ferraris attributes much of the rise in crime to pervasive drug addiction, the number of drug violations logged by the department remained static last year, with 139 reported in 2017 and 140 reported in 2016. Ferraris said that partly could be attributed to a new state law that went into effect last August that changed most possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

Some weapons-related crimes also increased last year, but Ferraris said that could be attributed to increased enforcement.

"Most of that's due to self-initiated officer activity. We have more officers out on the street now as our staffing levels improve," Ferraris said. For example, possession of an illegal weapon was reported 33 times last year, a 153.9 percent increase. But the arrest rate for that crime increased even more — 29 arrests were made on that charge, a 262.5 percent increase.

In general, arrests have increased a bit in Woodburn. Officers arrested 1,816 people last year, a 3.3 percent increase from the prior year's total. Ferraris said it's an improvement, especially since understaffing meant total arrests dropped by 12 percent in 2016.

"Over '16 and '17, we've been working very hard to increase staffing, and our numbers have gone up," Ferraris said.

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