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Parking garages: HOW SAFE ARE THEY?

When Kelly Gonzales parked her sport-utility vehicle on the top floor of the Middleford parking garage Wednesday morning, she did a double-take at two transient-looking guys huddled in a corner.

"They were sitting against the wall passing what looked like a glass pipe, smoke curling out of their mouths," said Gonzales, who works at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.

Gonzales, who said she was expressing her own opinions and not those of the Craterian, said the latest incident as well as a general increase in criminal behavior leave her feeling unsafe parking in the garage.

Her perception is shared by many who view the parking structures as unsafe, despite statistics showing that crime rates in the parking garages aren't high.

However, city officials say that not all unusual behavior in the parking structures has been reported to Medford police. After hearing about Gonzales' situation, the city has instructed Diamond Parking Services to report incidents it handles to the police.

When Gonzales saw the men smoking from the glass pipe, she put her SUV in reverse and drove to the lower level of the downtown parking garage to report the incident to Diamond Parking, which manages parking enforcement for the city

Gonzales said one of the Diamond staff members said she had noticed the two men the night before. Another staff member decided to check the situation out but didn't call the police.

Gonzales said the reaction — or, more precisely, lack of reaction — from the Diamond employees has convinced her not to renew her three-month parking permit that will expire this weekend. Instead, she said, she will park for one to two hours at a time in more visible locations despite the inconvenience of having to constantly move her vehicle.

Gonzales, who recently lived in Santa Rosa, Calif., for three years, said she was alarmed last year when she moved back to Medford and noticed an increase in crime. Gonzales had previously worked for the Britt Festival.

"Since I came back, I have been appalled at all the crimes, including rapes, a decapitation and shootings," she said.

Gonzales said she is concerned not only for herself, but for others, including volunteers and patrons of the Craterian, who often come out of shows late at night. She said she has heard other stories about unsavory behavior in the parking garages, including the theft of a vehicle.

Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said he believes the parking garages are as safe as anywhere in downtown Medford, but he understands why someone, and particularly a woman, would choose not to use them in the evenings.

"I think that she brings up a good point," he said. "You could have somebody with you, or park your car in a safer area if you are concerned."

Budreau said statistics don't show a big crime problem in the parking garages. At Middleford, off of Sixth Street, Medford police responded to 15 calls since June 1, 2011. These included disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, fraud, intimidation, theft and vandalism.

At the Evergreen garage off of Main Street, nine cases were reported during the same period, including vandalism, theft, trespassing and two suspects taken into custody for mental health evaluation.

Budreau said Gonzales is correct in her assessment that crime has increased in general in the valley, though it's difficult to pinpoint the cause.

"We don't know for sure it is the economy, or that there is not enough room in the jail to hold them, or it's the same subjects over and over again," he said.

A representative at Diamond Parking referred any questions to Lynette O'Neal, assistant to Medford's deputy city manager.

O'Neal said there is an unwarranted perception that the parking garages are unsafe.

O'Neal said crime statistics collected by the police might not reflect unreported unusual behavior or other odd circumstances that might occur in the parking garages.

She said she has asked Diamond employees to provide information to police about any situations they might handle on their own to improve police statistics.

The city does have a security company — Maximum Security — which patrols the garages and parking areas at night, she said.

She said that security personnel and the Medford police respond quickly to any situation in the parking garages.

The manager for Diamond has been trained in dealing with potential criminal situations and previously worked as a security guard, O'Neal said.

The Middleford garage will soon become more visible to passersby, potentially making it feel safer. As part of The Commons project, the brick covering the stairwells will be taken down.

"It will be open glass instead of brick," O'Neal said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

Parking garages: HOW SAFE ARE THEY?