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Crime dropped last year in Medford

A nearly 7 percent drop in serious crimes in Medford last year fueled the first overall decrease in reported crime in at least five years.

More than a third fewer robberies, 20 percent fewer burglaries and half as many arson cases were reported to Medford police in 2015. It's the first decrease in year-over-year serious crime and the first drop in total reports since at least 2011, according to annual crime reports issued by the Medford Police Department.

"We're stoked to see a reduction for the first time in some time," Medford police Deputy Chief Brett Johnson said.

Reports of serious crimes — which include homicide, rape, assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle thefts and arson — numbered 6,365 last year, compared with 6,837 the year before. 

The rate of solving those cases has decreased, however, from 47.7 percent in 2011 to 40.5 percent in 2015. Johnson didn't know the reason for the decrease, but said it's still "within normal tolerances." 

Johnson said any clearance rate in the 40th percentile is well above national averages, which he said typically range between 25 and 30 percent for serious crimes. 

The 34,693 incident reports logged in 2015 was 2 percent lower than the previous year. About three-quarters of all criminal cases in Medford were closed with an arrest in 2014 and 2015. 

"We've always touted our clearance rates," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. "Our clearance rates are way above the national average."

Mid-level crimes — including stolen property, vandalism, fraud and drug offenses — decreased slightly, from 17,816 in 2014 to 17,548 in 2015. Medford's closure rate for those crimes has remained above 80 percent for several years.

"We dedicate a lot of resources to investigations," Johnson said, adding the national rate averages 50 to 55 percent.

Johnson said a Medford ordinance enacted last year requiring pawn shops to submit photographs of their items to police has helped reduce stolen-property crimes. Law enforcement can cross-check the photos with theft reports. Stolen-property crimes dropped more than 22 percent in 2015, and the closure rate rose to 73 percent — a 6.3 percent improvement over 2014.

Although Budreau described the reduction in crime as "good news," both Johnson and Budreau said some statistics are outside police control.

"Poverty plays a huge part of it, drugs play a huge part of it," Johnson said.

“There are a lot of factors that go into crime fluctuations,” Budreau said.  “As much as we’d like to take credit for these crime reductions, we can’t say for certain.”

Facebook has provided another tool in the police arsenal, serving as a crime deterrent, Budreau said. Medford's social media followers nearly doubled in a year, to 23,000.

"We have more likes than Portland police," Johnson said, commending the program headed by Budreau. "We got 'em by over 1,000."

"It's been a pretty steady increase," Budreau said.

Facebook comments typically number more than 100 per post, Budreau said. The posts are often shared, and followers feel comfortable approaching police with information using the page.

“We get engagement by hundreds of people,” Budreau said.

If an unsolved crime is posted with a surveillance photo or mugshot, views and shares can number close to 50,000.

“That’s another 50,000 set of eyes that’s seen this guy,” Budreau said. “I think it’d make life difficult if someone were to try to do something like that again.”

Facebook tips led to the arrest of a bank robber in Douglas County less than 24 hours after the crime. K.C. William Blunt of Medford, suspected of robbing the Medford Evergreen Federal branch Feb. 24, was apprehended early the next morning while playing blackjack at Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville.

"People really want to be a part of the solution," Johnson said. "People give us a name and we're off and running."

Johnson said the resource has been particularly effective reaching locals in their 20s and 30s.

"It really is their medium that they go to," Johnson said. "They're on their phones. That's the way they communicate."

Other agencies' programs make an impact too, Johnson said, and cited examples such as parole and probation sweeps, and mental health and drug programs.

"I think Drug Court's helping," Johnson said, saying that helping people break the cycle of addiction makes an impact on crime.

Variables such as available beds for mental health holds, drug programs and jail space are all elements that impact Medford's crime rate, Johnson said.  

"It takes all of our partners to do it."

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.