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From speeding to burglaries to domestic violence, law-enforcement agencies examine trends amid the current paradigm

MARION COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE - Deputies respond to a roll-over crash on French Prairie road, shortly after wrapping up a fatal accident scene a few miles away on April 16. Multiple law enforcement agencies report concerns that high-speed driving appears to be increasing this spring.April 16 was a busy day for first responders, beginning with a 7 a.m. fatal motorcycle crash on Ehlen Road near Donald, then continuing with a rollover wreck on nearby French Prairie Road.

Marion County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to the first incident and investigated the scene. They no sooner had it wrapped up when they were immediately dispatched to the second scene.

Area law enforcement agencies have undertaken an extraordinary task of late, reviewing and trying to detect trends that have emanated from the changing paradigm due to COVID-19.

As considerably more people are staying at home during the workday, either due to closures or in a capacity to work from home, that means fewer drivers on the streets. That doesn't necessarily mean quieter streets.

"One of the big things that we've noticed is that even though there is significantly less traffic on the roads, we are seeing a ton of drivers exceeding the speed limit, many at very high rates of speed," Marion County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jeremy Landers said.

Landers said the high-speed phenomenon is a multi-agency observation, with jurisdictions throughout the Willamette Valley and metro area noticing it and sharing concerns. Why?

"I think with the combination of fewer vehicles on the road, nice weather and some people are under the impression that law enforcement are not (on patrol). That is absolutely not the true. We are out there and we need people to be safe," Landers stressed.

That is one among many phenomena that have surfaced with this spring's changing paradigms.

Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris recently reported that living and working condition changes appear to be affecting the types of calls his department is fielding.

"We are seeing some changes in terms of crime within the city," Ferraris told the Woodburn City Council on April 13. "I'll give you the good news first: burglaries are down by more than half

compared to the same period of time that we looked at last year."

Ferarris deduced that with more people staying at home, it creates a less fertile environment for would-be burglars.

"What isn't so good is that child abuse, domestic violence and suicide have noticeable upticks, and that's a concern," he added. "We think that the child-abuse numbers, even though they are up, we are not getting an accurate picture because with school out of session for so long, we really depend on teachers and school administrators and staff interaction with our school resource officers to be able to identify those cases and potential victims. We're missing that because school is out of session. We don't think we have an accurate number on that; we think that if school was in session we would actually see the numbers increase (higher)."

The Newberg-Dundee Police Department has similar experiences.

"I would agree with those statistics, other than we are not seeing an unusual spike in domestic abuse. Those numbers have remained about the same." NDPD Capt. Jeff Kosmicki said.

Canby Police Chief Bret Smith said his department is monitoring crime numbers, but he is very guarded about attaching much significance to them, as yet.

"I think it's a little bit early to gauge right now, especially with a small sample," Smith said. "Our burglary rates have decreased and that's not surprising since a lot of people are staying at home ...We don't really have a super-high burglary rate anyway."

While not putting much weight on early statistics, Smith said CPD is watching the numbers carefully to detect any changes, especially since times of crisis and job losses can magnify mental health issues.

Clackamas County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Marcus Mendoza shared a crime number comparison of March 2019 to March 2020.

"Comparing only the month of March 2019 to March 2020 this is where we stand for all Clackamas County Sheriff's Office patrol areas: burglary has increased 39% in 2020, domestic violence 16% and suicide attempts 11%," Mendoza said, adding that the department has seen decreases in behavioral health (21%), child abuse (3%) and all other calls combined (19%).

Mendoza also noted that while domestic violence calls are up, the number of arrests stayed even.

Yamhill County records reflect what other jurisdictions are seeing, with some exceptions.

"As far as trends go, yes, we have seen some similar stats, but also some exceptions to what Woodburn is seeing," YCSO Capt. Chris Ray said.

Ray said comparing March 2020 with March 2019, the county saw a 53.33% decrease in burglaries, 15.38% increase in domestic violence, 36.36% increase in suicide calls, 46.66% increase in mental health calls, 9.2% decrease in juvenile abuse calls and 16.66% decrease in sex-crime cases.

Mount Angel Police Chief Mark Daniel has observed a few curious tendencies in his town.

The sample size in Mount Angel is small enough to illustrate why Canby's Chief Smith is hesitant to put much stock in initial percentage changes. For example, Daniel said in March of 2019 Mount Angel had two domestic violence calls — in 2020 it had four; technically a 100% increase. The department had one child abuse call in 2019 and none in 2020; 100% decrease.

"We saw no change in suicides or burglaries," Daniel said. "What we have seen is a 500-percent increase in code violation calls, mostly because with people staying at home or walking around town, they're seeing violations and calling us.

"We've also seen an increase in trespassing calls and suspicious vehicle or suspicious persons calls," he added. "We've had twice as many trespass calls."

The print edition of this story to be published April 22 used the headline 'Crime on the rise amid COVID-19 outbreak', which contradicts some of the conclusions and data in this article. This was not our intention and we apologize for the error. — Editor


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