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MailTribune.com
  • A FORCE OF ONE

    Gold Hill's community service officer is the only assigned law enforcement official in a town without a police force
  • GOLD HILL — A recently appointed part-time community service officer is helping to reclaim what some say has become a lawless town.
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    • If you go
      What: A community "Take Back Our Town" event. The open-house style event will give residents a chance to weigh in on issues in the city, and to discuss a citywide Neighborhood Watch effort, as well...
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      If you go
      What: A community "Take Back Our Town" event. The open-house style event will give residents a chance to weigh in on issues in the city, and to discuss a citywide Neighborhood Watch effort, as well as available classes on home and business safety.

      When: 6:30 tonight, Thursday, June 5

      Where: Hanby Middle School
  • GOLD HILL — A recently appointed part-time community service officer is helping to reclaim what some say has become a lawless town.
    Parked near the south entrance to the one-square-mile city on a recent afternoon, community service officer Gerry Conley, on contract with the city through the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, monitored a busy downtown lunch hour while rattling off a list of issues he's tackled since starting here in April.
    The city has been without its own law enforcement for much of the past decade — having twice disbanded its police force since 2000 — with the exception of occasional contracts for code enforcement services with neighboring agencies.
    Faced with issues ranging from drugs and transients to abandoned buildings and residential burglaries, Conley admits he's only one man.
    "They have lots of burglaries, vandalism at the sports and beach parks, lots of heroin," Conley said.
    "They haven't had a cop around here in about three years, and the scofflaws are doing what they want to do, and the homeless came in and invaded the place, and drugs really pumped up."
    Conley started his job after the City Council implemented a 20-hours-per-week contract to address code enforcement problems, including overgrown lawns and trash accumulation.
    But with a half-dozen vacant houses on his watch list, Conley spends much of his time keeping squatters from moving into abandoned or foreclosed buildings and communicating with sheriff's deputies on bigger issues that crop up while he's off-duty.
    Conley said he hopes to start on basic code-enforcement complaints soon, but so far he's been forced to deal with more immediate crime problems, and he said residents shouldn't expect a quick fix.
    "I think they thought they had their thumb on things more than they did until they saw some of my paperwork and realized the things they're dealing with," Conley said.
    "This is going to take a lack of apathy and for the community to step up. Some of these problems took years to get to this point, so we aren't going to see them go away overnight."
    Shirley Brooks, who runs a dental practice with her husband near downtown, said Conley's 20-hour presence has made a noticeable improvement in the "almost lawless" town where she raised her children.
    Brooks said years without consistent law enforcement have turned the city into a haven for criminals.
    Brooks told council members last month that garbage, graffiti and drug paraphernalia are regular problems for her family's dental office.
    "We love that little town. We raised our children in the schools there. There is an undercurrent of some lawlessness that has crept up over the years that really needs to be addressed," said Brooks, who has opposed a medical marijuana dispensary that she said would add to crime.
    "I think the bottom line is we need a police force again. I can't believe the difference having that sheriff there has helped with. People don't want to take a walk down the bike path now ... but since he came to town things have cleaned up a little bit. It would be amazing if we had somebody full time."
    Councilor Doug Reischman, a downtown business owner, said Conley had made some positive strides for the town. With community help, more change could occur, he added.
    Reischman, in his second term on the council, said he hoped to get business owners engaged in thwarting theft and tackling other issues in town.
    A community "Take Back Our Town" event is slated for 6:30 tonight at Hanby Middle School. The open-house style event will give residents a chance to weigh in on issues in the city and to discuss a citywide Neighborhood Watch effort, as well as available classes on home and business safety.
    "I think it's important to get the merchants involved, because we're the first responders to everything," Reischman said.
    "We see everything that goes on down here — theft, transients, suspicious activity — we're the ones who generally have to deal with things before anyone else gets to it. Things have gotten pretty outlandish here, so it's time to start getting everyone more involved."
    "What they need most is to get people to all work together to start making calls and pointing fingers," Conley said. "The big issue is that these people have gone for years without a cop, and they're a little bit afraid to point their fingers — they worry about retaliation when I'm only here so many hours a week," he said.
    "My big focus, when I talk to people or when I go to meetings ... I tell people, 'If you want this town back, you take it back.' It's not for the cops to do. They're who you call after the horse is already down the road.
    "If we can get people to really work together and not tolerate things anymore, it'll start to turn around."
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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