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Medford task force seeks to catch career criminals

In a conference room at the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, investigators, analysts, deputies and Medford police pool information in an effort to stop career criminals who have made theft a habit.

Medford police crime analyst Melissa Cochran pores over police reports while sheriff's Detective Colin Fagan describes how an arrest halted a string of burglaries. Detectives and officers who work the streets study hot sheets ' pages of mug shots of wanted people ' and swap stories about familiar faces on the sheet.

This is the Rogue Valley major property crimes task force at work.

Medford police and the sheriff's department formed the task force in October to target ubiquitous burglaries, car thefts and car-clout sprees.

It's a low tech way to work more effectively, said Fagan, who heads the group.

In an era of shrinking budgets that pinch police resources, working smarter is increasingly important, he said.

A state-prepared Report of Criminal Offenses and Arrests shows that property crimes have dropped in Jackson County in recent years. In 2001, about 12,000 property crimes were reported, down from about 13,000 the previous year and 14,700 in 1997.

The sheriff's department took reports of 2,700 property crimes in 2001 and solved about 580 of them, the state report said. Medford police took reports of nearly 5,900 property crimes and solved about 1,700.

teaming up, the county's two biggest police agencies hope to close cases more efficiently, Fagan said.

The idea sprouted in the summer of 2001 when the two agencies together investigated a string of stolen and forged checks.

Investigators found that Richard C. George, 31, of Talent, and Lisa N. Burkett, 23, of Medford, were buying stolen checkbooks, forging checks to buy expensive items, then returning the items for cash. Investigators estimated that the two netted more than &

36;10,000 from 40 victims in three months. They both received prison sentences for the string of crimes, court records show.

The victims who had checkbooks stolen and the businesses that took forged checks were scattered across the city and county.

Bad guys are going to do their thing, regardless of whose jurisdiction they're in, Fagan said.

Medford police Detective Bill Ford agrees, noting that when similar crimes happen throughout the area, usually one person or one group is responsible.

Just as the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team recognizes that drugs transcend political boundaries, the property crimes task force strives to track burglars and car thieves wherever they hit, Ford said.

The task force focuses on career criminals and crime sprees, Ford said. It concentrates on catching repeat offenders and ultimately sending them to prison.

Oregon has a repeat-property-offenders law, sometimes called son of 11 after the state's mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines for violent crimes set out in Measure 11. The repeat property-offenders law mandates prison sentences for people convicted multiple times of crimes such as first-degree burglary, first-degree theft, unauthorized use of a vehicle and identity theft.

The task force also wants to use a federal law that targets gun-using criminals convicted of multiple crimes. People convicted in federal armed career-criminal cases face a minimum 15-year prison sentence, task force members said.

We want to surgically remove career criminals from the community, Ford said.

He estimates that 10 percent of the criminal population commits 90 percent of the crimes. focusing on those people, whom Ford calls our problem children, police hope to cut property crimes throughout Jackson County.

Conversation at the task force's casual weekly meetings centers on such problem children.

Members share information about recent arrests, people newly released from jail and bulletins from other agencies.

An officer who arrested a woman on possession of heroin charges expects to see her linked with property crimes. Detectives tell officers that a robber just out of prison in California has moved to Medford. Another officer passes along information from Bend police about a daytime burglar who is probably headed south.

Task force members study police reports in search of similarities that could indicate crimes are linked and try to match details with the methods of known criminals. Analysts map crimes and look for patterns.

When the task force discovers possibly linked crimes, members can push for extra attention at the Oregon State Police crime lab, Fagan said.

In the sea of evidence the lab processes, random property crimes, such as thefts from vehicles, aren't a priority. When the task force indicates crimes might be connected, the lab can focus on the spree, he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4459, or e-mail

Rogue Valley major property crimes cases

Theft ' Joseph Andrew Hulse, 25, of the 3200 block of Griffin Creek Road, Medford. Analysts mapped sites where cars were broken into or stolen, and where stolen vehicles were found around southwest Medford. Investigators saw that the sites were near where Hulse often stayed.

The task force gathered evidence from the crimes and took it to the OSP crime lab, where technicians identified Hulse's fingerprints.

He was arrested on 19 felony charges, including 12 counts of unauthorized use of a vehicle, and 22 misdemeanors, including eight counts of unauthorized entry into a vehicle.

Burglary ' Ed Herring, 40, of the first block of Bigham Brown Road, Eagle Point.

A deputy stopped Herring driving a truckload of furniture early Oct. 29. The sheriff's office later received a report of a burglary at a modular home sales lot on South Pacific Highway where furniture was taken from a model home.

Medford police had arrested Herring years earlier on charges stemming from a burglary at a model home and he was sentenced to prison in that case. Task force investigators teamed up on the clues and police officers went to numerous locations they thought Herring and the stolen furniture might be. He was arrested on charges of second-degree burglary, first-degree theft, and second-degree criminal mischief, and is in jail awaiting trial. The furniture was recovered moments before it was sold to an unsuspecting buyer.

Identity theft ' Kristopher Ian Simpson, 29, lists jail as his home address.

In jail, Simpson allegedly collected information on crime victims from police reports provided to people accused of crimes and sent the information to a friend, Tabitha D. McGee. Medford police arrested McGee on unrelated robbery charges and found the information, which they shared with sheriff's detectives, who investigated the case and charged Simpson with eight counts of felony identity theft. He is in jail awaiting trial.