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Crime rates at the Clackamas Town Center plummeted more than 30 percent during the past couple years, decreasing for the first time since TriMet light-rail trains started rolling to the mall.

by: CCSO - Crime rates decline over the past few years at Clackamas Town Center.Reports dropped from a high of 1,287 in 2010 to 900 last year. Town Center shoplifting and vehicle thefts alone account for the decrease, going from 935 in 2010 to 514 last year. Assuming crime rates don’t increase dramatically during the holiday shopping season, preliminary statistics for 2013 suggest that the downward trend will continue.

When the MAX Green Line opened Sept. 12, 2009, it seemingly set off a crime wave. After an off-duty deputy was attacked on the line in 2010, the sheriff's office saw the incident as part of a disturbing trend that recorded a 32 percent increase in reported Clackamas-area crimes and a 56 percent increase in calls for police service after light rail’s opening.

Now Clackamas County deputies are scratching their heads as to what helped with the decrease.

“There are so many factors that go into crime analysis, making it difficult to pin what may be the cause,” said CCSO spokesman Sgt. Robert Wurpes. "I will say TriMet police officers are very vigilant in their duties, not only on the bus and train lines, but also to the areas surrounding them, including the Town Center."

Mirroring the number of reports from 2008, the last full year without light rail, those 900 Town Center reports last year include a gunman’s Dec. 11 murders of Steve Forsyth and Cindy Yuille in the food court as an estimated 10,000 people shopped in the complex.

CCSO defines “CTC crimes” as reportedly occurring inside the mall, its surrounding parking lot or inside those restaurants located in the parking lot. “Transit crimes” reportedly occurred on trains or buses, or at the Town Center train platform, parking structure or its bus stops.

But transit crimes in the area, fueled largely by theft and drug charges, have increased over the past two years as CTC rates have decreased. In 2012 there were an additional 185 transit crimes, up from 140 in 2010. Other exceptions to the general downward crime-rate trend include 10 examples of resisting arrest on transit, when previous years have only had zero to four such reports.

Parsing the data

TriMet spokeswoman Roberta Altstadt says CCSO's data inflates includes non-criminal code violations, so-called “interfering with public transportation” charges. A fare violation is $179 a ticket, but it's also considered a theft by CSSO.

As for those drug charges, TriMet Director of Safety and Security Harry Saporta said a combination of “good police work” sometimes involving plain-clothes missions and public-information campaigns, such as leaflets on car windows reminding of prowlers, have contributed to the number of reports.

TriMet's data shows the Green Line segment's crime increased from 21 reports during the first six months of 2012 to 24 for the same time period this year. Of those reported crimes, 18 were theft of, from or criminal mischief involving customers’ autos; and one of the 24 reported crimes was criminal mischief to the platform.

Altstadt also pointed to national studies showing that transit centers increase the safety of the surrounding community.

“When taking a look at the statistics, it’s important to take into account the number of riders served. For instance, we provided 1.592 million rides at the Clackamas Town Center Transit Center in 2012 with 11 reported crimes,” she said. “Transit reflects the community it serves. As things happen in the community, they will at times also happen on TriMet.”

Before the Green Line even opened in 2009, the sheriff's office raised the specter of fighting more criminals with just a few more officers, citing statistics showing reported crimes throughout the city had nearly doubled in Gresham within three years of that line opening. As TriMet began construction on the Portland-Milwaukie line, set to open in 2015, citizen petitioners used the statistics to persuade voters to be wary of light-rail proposals. Clackamas County voters in September 2012 changed local law so that elected officials will need to return to the ballot if they ever want to fund another public-rail project.

Clackamas Town Center mall security is responsible for patrolling and providing the security at the Park and Ride. TriMet security funds throughout the system are budgeted at $11.8 million in the next fiscal year, up from $10.1 in the 2010 and $9.7 in 2012.

CCSO Sgt. Lynn Schoenfeld, who heads the TriMet team that operates out of the CTC Transit Police Precinct, now commends his team that can “go the extra mile” to find drugs and weapons. Whether someone trespasses into and area they're not supposed to be, or if they didn't pay their fare, TriMet code gives police probable cause to start a conversation and ask for ID.

“No one wants to get on a platform and be held captive by the guy smoking a cigarette,” Schoenfeld said.

Crime outside mall

In the unincorporated Clackamas area, 3,696 reported crimes in 2010 dropped dramatically to 1,994 in 2012.

That’s no consolation for Ken Bakke, who owns an RV-storage facility next to the park-and-ride lot on Fuller Road. Bakke purchased his building in 1998, and had no problems until 2007, when people started using wire cutters to steal from his site.

“They would break in right next to TriMet’s video camera, but they said they don’t have time to look through the footage unless we have an exact time and date,” he said.

Bakke did credit TriMet for repeatedly repairing the fence, installing barbed wire, and for repaying him for the $2,000 it cost to install plastic flaps in the chain-link fence to deter criminals. Since 2007, he’s had 11 break-ins.

Best Buy managers on Southeast 82nd Avenue in the Johnson Creek Crossing shopping center estimate that of every 10 of their shoplifting “runners,” three head for the light-rail line. They often head to the east side of the building, noted Asset Protection Associate Desiree Clarke, and now that they have light rail, they can sometimes catch a train before police arrive.

Clarke said, “TriMet police and Clackamas County police have been very responsive to our needs, so it’s nothing against them.”

Schoenfeld noted that shoplifters rarely get away when deputies can also head to the train's next stop to intercept the suspect.

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