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Curfew crackdown brings mixed reactions

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Police dealt with juvenile offenders differently during the summer of 2012. This 19-year-old, spotted along Canyon Creek Road after consuming alcohol, was given a courtesy ride home along with a stern warning. A year later, he would have gotten a one-way trip to juvenile detention. Some residents may not have noticed. But those in certain Wilsonville neighborhoods certainly were affected by a summer crime wave that led local police to ratchet up enforcement on juvenile curfew offenders.

According to Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Lt. James Rhodes, who serves as chief of the Wilsonville Police Department, the city “experienced an acute and severe, a profound increase, in crime,” between May and August this year. Despite the fact police normally see a slight increase in crime across the board during those months, this past summer was like nothing seen in recent history.

“We’re not talking about TP-ing some trees or throwing some eggs,” Rhodes said. “The crimes we experienced this summer were really severe and resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage.”

A number of portable toilets on public property were set on fire, Rhodes said, along with a number of garbage cans. Vehicles were shot with air guns firing BBs, while other objects were reportedly thrown at vehicles regularly enough to merit police attention.

In the worst example of activity classed as criminal mischief by law enforcement, unknown perpetrators attached metal wire to trees on either side of Wilsonville Road. The wire was then surrounded with plastic wrap.

by: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Police Chief James Rhodes described last week how his department cracked down on criminal mischief by taking a hard line on juvenile curfew laws. "They were stretching Saran Wrap and wire across the roadway from trees,” Rhodes told the Wilsonville City Council at an Oct. 7 meeting, “which could result in some very severe injuries or death for motorists, particularly motorcyclists.”

Fortunately, no one was reported injured in that instance. But it represents just one of the many dozens of cases of criminal mischief reported as early as April and lasting through August.

June was the key month. As time went on and the police officers saw signs that something was out of the ordinary, they began to examine the situation more closely.

Officers analyzing the patterns realized virtually all of the significant crime was taking place at night between the hours of roughly 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“These are crimes of opportunity,” Rhodes said. “And our experience is that these are typically crimes committed by juveniles.”

As school let out for the summer at the beginning of June, the number of incidents began to climb. There were 60 reported crimes in the city during that month alone, Rhodes told councilors, including 46 cases of criminal mischief, arson and minors in possession of alcohol. They were reported in various areas around the city. But the worst-hit neighborhood seemed to be the stretch of Wilsonville Road and the neighborhoods south of that along Willamette Way East and Willamette Way West.

It didn’t take long for officers to switch tactics.

Prior to this, Wilsonville police followed what had been, until then, standard procedure for dealing with juvenile curfew breakers. State law allows police to cite or otherwise deal with children under 18 who are found in public between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., and local officers were fairly lenient.

“In April and May, when this began, curfew (breaking) typically resulted in a warning,” Rhodes said. “When you come in contact with a juvenile in violation, it was a stern warning and explanation, and you’d send them on their way.”

After June, that changed dramatically. Instead of a lift home or a talking-to, police began automatically transporting juveniles found in violation of curfew to a county-run youth detention facility in Oregon City.

“It’s a harder stance and a departure from previous actions,” Rhodes admitted.

But, this, coupled with focused patrol and even undercover attention on the hardest-hit neighborhoods, seemed to cut down the number of reported crimes significantly.

“We increased our curfew enforcement in ... specific areas, and it was not random,” he said. “It was targeted and specific.”

By the time July rolled around, Wilsonville officers had taken 15 juveniles to Oregon City, where their parents were required to pick them up. Reported crimes dropped from 46 in June to 19 in July. Similar numbers followed in August.

For Rhodes, it was an “effective tool” that solved a pressing problem.

It also apparently generated some public complaints from parents irate over the unannounced crackdown.

Wilsonville resident Adria DuPre said her daughter, a 16-year-old junior at Wilsonville High School, was picked up on school grounds with four other teens a little over a month ago for violating curfew. The teens were not cited or charged with any crimes but were taken to juvenile detention in Oregon City, where they were released to their parents.

While DuPre said she supports police efforts to clamp down on vandals and criminal activity, she questioned the effectiveness of their tactics. Instead of punishing the violators, she said, police efforts had that effect on parents like her.

“They could have been catching people vandalizing in the hour-and-a-half you wasted driving them to Oregon City,” DuPre said. “It’s great that they’re staying on top of things; there’s no reason for a bunch of kids to be wandering around at midnight, especially a 16-year-old. But if you want to get them, enforce curfew, at least give them some options, like ‘Can we get the kids in Wilsonville? Why should we have to drive?’”

She added that despite the seemingly harsh police action, her daughter and other teens actually were treated leniently by corrections staff and did not seem to learn a lot from the experience. She said that should change if police hope to make a longer-term impression on teens’ behavior.

Councilor Richard Goddard told Rhodes he heard from a number of such parents upset at what they felt was harsh treatment at the hands of police.

“I appreciate you folks are doing the best job you could, and I think we understand and appreciate that,” Goddard said. “But I would say there were a number of circumstances that I heard about from parents that suggests there was less than reasonable and targeted enforcement. I would just say there were a few examples that did not reflect well on the sheriff’s department or the Wilsonville Police Department.”

Goddard did not go into specifics, but he offered pointed criticism of police policy he said is harming the public’s trust in local police.

“It’s not just picking kids up and taking them to Oregon City, although that is a departure,” he said. “But I think it’s a departure in some cases that hasn’t resulted in a positive perception of law enforcement.”

Rhodes admitted that Wilsonville police, which is run by the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office under contract with the city, could have done a better job of communicating the change in enforcement policy.

“It was an effective tool to solve the problem that was facing us,” he said. “But we learned: Strategic enforcement is not always communicated with the public, and we do it specifically for a reason, for a purpose. But what I learned what we can do better as a police department is communicate these things better with the community.”



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