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Medford considers ‘Livability Team’

Homelessness, bad behavior and disruptive neighbors have led to intimidation and bullying downtown, on the Bear Creek Greenway and in neighborhoods, city officials say.

To tackle these problems, Medford officials at Thursday’s City Council meeting will propose adding three new police officers, a code enforcement officer and a records specialist at a total cost of $560,000 a year.

“It’s not enough,” said Councilor Dick Gordon, who helped initiate the study to add more officers. “But I have not heard everything about their proposal.”

Gordon said for a city the size of Medford, the police force is not sufficient, and he said the department has had a history of open positions that have been left unfilled, an issue that he thinks needs to be addressed.

The new police officers would be part of a “Livability Team” that would deal directly with difficult problems in neighborhoods, according to the proposal.

To pay for the team, city officials have suggested to the council that it increase the public safety fee on utility bills by $14.52 a year, or $1.21 a month. In addition, the city might qualify for a federal grant of $125,000 per year for a three-year period, which would reduce the fee to $11.28 per year, or 94 cents a month.

The council will look at those and other options at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Council Chambers, 411 W. Eighth St.

Corvallis has a similar Livability Team, approved through a 2013 tax levy and then expanded after the city received an annual grant of $400,000. Corvallis’ team conducts foot and bicycle patrols.

Gordon said a bigger police presence would act as sort of preventive medicine that he thinks would help reduce criminal activity.

He said he’s particularly alarmed at the number of complaints the city has received from residents and businesses.

“There has been an increase in people bullying and threatening other people on the Greenway and downtown,” he said.

Other issues police deal with are people living in recreational vehicles or broken-down vehicles in driveways. “This is one of the biggest complaints in neighborhoods,” Deputy Chief Scott Clauson said.

In addition, abandoned properties attract people who break into boarded-up houses. Drug houses are also an issue, he said.

“Chronic nuisance issues detract and take away from a neighborhood,” he said.

Clauson said some problems downtown have decreased since the Kelly Shelter took on a larger role of providing a place for the homeless from January through March. The shelter houses homeless people during the night, then buses them to another location during the day, which limits the number downtown.

The city’s exclusion zone, which bans people who commit certain crimes from downtown, also appears to help keep out some of the worst offenders, Clauson said.

Someone can be excluded for up to 90 days for a variety of offenses, including drunkenness, sex offenses, criminal mischief, graffiti, failure to control dangerous dogs, public urination, harassment, menacing and theft.

The city’s exclusion ordinance encompasses an area bounded by Bear Creek on the east, Sixth Street to the north, 10th Street to the south and Oakdale Avenue to the west. The Jackson County Courthouse, which contains county government offices, is also included in the exclusion zone.

Homeless camps along the Greenway are an ongoing issue for law enforcement officers, who drag out 24 tons of debris annually during sweeps.

The city continuously tries to enforce a no-camping ordinance on the Greenway. Police attempt to help violators, including veterans, get mental and physical health services. Currently the Parks and Recreation Department spends $11,300 annually on these efforts.

Another $68,000 is spent on a joint patrol and maintenance along the seven miles of Greenway within city limits.

An enhanced police patrol in the downtown was conducted from August to November 2017 at a cost of $11,500.

Other ideas to increase police presence include more overtime for officers, expanding the health and safety outreach on the Greenway to two times a month, and downtown cleanups, which cost other cities up to $300,000.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / MT File Photo Medford police Cpl. Randy Jewell, inspects trash left behind at a homeless camp under a bridge near the Hilton Garden Inn in Medford in February 2017.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune A homeless camp is set up between Fir Street and the railroad tracks in downtown Medford Monday. City officials are exploring the idea of a 'Livability Team' that could deal with homeless and other issues downtown.