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Expressing ideas ranging from stricter enforcement to a new jail facility, more than two dozen people shared their experiences with crime in Southern Oregon and their views on how to solve the problem.

A community dialog about the apparent rise in criminal activity and homelessness near Alba Park, the Bear Creek Greenway and surrounding towns drew perspectives from about 25 locals Friday afternoon, including homeless advocates, a Jackson County commissioner, Medford police and administrators of the Jackson County Scanner Group, which has more than 37,000 members on Facebook.

Scanner Group administrator Ryan Mallory said he arranged the discussion outside the Carnegie Library building steps, "steering away from unconstructive comments" that people often post online and toward solutions. He based part of the discussion around a survey the site recently posted, of which 765 have responded as of June 1. All but three respondents said they believe the county had a problem with repeat offenders.

Patti Robinson said she believed more enforcement in the court system would make a difference, on grounds that she sees police are making arrests yet suspects routinely miss their court appearances. 

"But if our court system is going to have a revolving door and let these people back out on the street crime after crime after crime, are we sitting here spinning our wheels, people, or are we spinning our wheels," Robinson said.

County Commissioner Bob Strosser advocated for a new jail facility in response to Robinson's comment, saying the jail was "obsolete from when it was built." Strosser said the current jail is a "linear facility" with blind spots caused by long corridors, in contrast to modern jails that use a "podular remote supervision" design that allows deputies to observe inmates from a central location.

"But we're public servants, we get the money that we get, we don't have a magic wand, we don't get to create extra money," Strosser said. "We basically provide what we can, given the constraints of the budget."

Laura Aho, who runs the Southern Oregon News community Facebook page, unrelated to the Scanner Group, asked Strosser why officials couldn't simply expand the current jail building. Strosser said it would be more expensive to preserve the facility, which would still have an obsolete design.

The Scanner Group survey results showed nearly 85 percent believed the county needs a larger jail. Of the 495 property owners surveyed, 73 percent said they were willing to pay at least $10 per $100,000 for a new facility.

Others, such as Claudette Moore, who works at Coldwell Banker at Sixth and Oakdale, touched on the rise in transients downtown. Some have defecated near the business, while others use outdoor plugs to charge their electronics, she said.

Jennifer Harper, who works at Jackson County Mental Health and volunteers with the homeless advocacy nonprofit Compassion Highway Project, said homeless congregate in the area because the services available to them are centrally located, and many have to carry their belongings with them everywhere on foot.

"I know that there are people who have carts that are enormously full," Harper said. "You know what? That's their whole house."

Deputy Chief Brett Johnson with Medford police said that if a homeless person is abiding by the park rules, they have just as much of a constitutional right to use the park as anyone else. Somebody pushing a cart or resting in a sleeping bag for a few hours during the day is "not a police issue," though he understands why some would disagree.

Julian Cordle, a Medford Parks and Recreation commissioner who spoke as an individual, said the commission takes care in approaching rule changes excluding people from a public park. The city can face lawsuits that cost well over $20,000 for poorly written laws.

Johnson said that Medford police have eight bikes, and bike patrols will begin increasing downtown and on the bike path in the summer months. Johnson also said that officers have an extra day each month for special projects, which some use for monthly Greenway sweeps. When someone asked Johnson why sweeps couldn't be done more regularly, Johnson said they're "very expensive."

Mallory said that he hopes to put together more discussions at different times in order to hear from people on different schedules.

Robinson said she was happy with how the discussion went.

"We all want the same thing," Robinson said. "We just differ on how we want to go about it."

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

Jackson County Scanner Group holds a 'Take Back the Community' rally in Alba Park Friday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]