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Is Medford tops in crime?

A widely circulated news report last week ranked Medford as the state's most crime-ridden city — ahead of 19 others — based on 2014 FBI statistics. 

But 2015 stats have knocked Medford off that hill.

Based on per-capita violent crime alone, Medford's 2015 rate of 495 per 100,000 wasn't low, but the very highest was Hines in Harney County — where 10 violent crimes occurred among a population of 1,485, resulting in a per-capita rate of 673 per 100,000. 

The widely circulated news report, which used 2014 figures and filtered cities to populations greater than 10,000, listed Coos Bay at No. 6, but that city had 585 violent crimes per 100,000, 90 more than Medford.

According to the FBI, "violent crimes" are murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Medford police Chief Randy Sparacino says those numbers lack nuance.

"There are various severities of criminal activity," Sparacino said in an email. ". . . We (MPD) value our relationship with our citizens and diligently respond and investigate their issues by taking action against the perpetrators as reflected by our higher than average clearance rate."

A sizable chunk of Medford's 393 violent crimes in 2015 weren't stranger-to-stranger crimes. Of the 303 aggravated assaults, 43 percent of those — some 130 — were domestic violence.

Nearly a quarter of Medford's 56 robberies involved suspects who knew each other. Some 10 robberies were categorized as debt- or drug-related crimes, and three were "domestic" robberies.

As far as robberies that did involve strangers, more than a quarter, or 15 of them, were categorized as lower-severity "shoplifts gone bad." Medford had one bank robbery in 2015, in which no one was hurt and for which Jeffrey Edward Ownby since has been convicted.

The remainder of Medford's 2015 violent crimes consisted of 33 rape cases and one murder — the December shooting of 27-year-old Isaac Deleon of Central Point, for which Shane Anthony Zornes of Spokane was sentenced to life in prison last week.  

Medford's per-capita property crime, including burglaries, thefts and arsons, were near — but not at — the top, FBI data shows. Nearly 85 percent of Medford's 4,859 property crimes were thefts, Medford data shows.

Among cities with greater than 10,000 population, Coos Bay again took the lead with 6,247, compared to Medford's 6,115 property crimes per 100,000. Seaside took the very top of the list with 8,322 per 100,000. 

Medford has topped similar crime lists since at least 2014, when the real estate blog Movoto used 2012 FBI data for its list of "most dangerous cities in Oregon." But the FBI advises against using the figures, compiled voluntarily from more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the country, for ranking purposes, according to its website.

"These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents," according to the FBI website. "Rankings ignore the uniqueness of each locale."

Rankings overlook factors including population density, youth concentration, economic conditions and the effective strength of law enforcement in an area, according to the FBI. The data is meant to provide information to researchers about crime trends over time, to law enforcement agencies for budgetary and planning purposes and for national crime statistics.

"Data users should not rank locales because there are many factors that cause the nature and type of crime to vary from place to place," the FBI's website says. 

Whether Medford will top the list again for 2016 won't be known for another year, but Sparacino said property and violent crimes were up from the year before. He said it's too soon to tell whether a reduction in jail space between November 2015 and April 2017 played a role in the numbers.

In 2017, property crimes are up 4.5 percent from last year, according to Sparacino, while violent crimes are up 0.7 percent.

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

An examination of 2015 FBI statistics shows Medford wasn't the most crime-ridden city in Oregon. [Mail Tribune File Photo]