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Scofflaws cripple Medford police efforts to combat crime

Chronic offenders who fail to show up in court, and lack of jail space, undermine the ability of Medford police to fight crime, study says
The ability of police in Medford to fight crime is being undermined by chronic offenders who fail to show up for court dates or respond to citations, a study has found. [Mail Tribune/file photo]

The ability of Medford police to combat crime has been undermined by chronic offenders who fail to respond to citations or court dates, a study has found.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Safety Management’s 177-page report recommends the police department add more than a dozen new officers and support staff to keep up with a workload that is “too high.”

In 2021, Medford police responded to 90,000 calls, or 248 a day.

That call volume will continue to grow as Medford is expected to exceed 100,000 residents by 2035.

The $78,000 report, discussed at the Medford City Council meeting Thursday night, found a number of issues that affect the police department’s ability to deal with crime in the city.

“The MPD is currently operating in an extremely challenging atmosphere,” the study concluded.

A list of 89 recommendations over a 10-year period are contained in the report.

Paul O’Connell, senior public safety consultant with CPSM, praised the attempt by Medford police to deal with homelessness by creating a Livability Team, which patrols the Bear Creek Greenway and downtown.

“A very, very intelligent use of resources,” O’Connell said. “It is without doubt a model for the United States.”

The team is able to deal with the often protracted issues surrounding homelessness and mental health that would otherwise divert patrol officers from responding to other calls, he said.

He suggested the Livability Team operate seven days a week and for longer hours.

The city has one of the best procedures to handle false alarms in the county, O’Connell said.

More than 1,100 false alarms were handled through a double call-back system to property owners to avoid sending out an officer.

The city collected $30,000 in fines in 2021 from false alarms.

O’Connell said the city should look at other ways to avoid sending out officers, including for property damage reports or for minor traffic accidents.

Another recommendation is to minimize the number of traffic stops, instead focusing these efforts on locations more prone to accidents.

“What we would recommend against is anything that suggests that the officers get out and write more tickets,” O’Connell said.

The report found Medford police are dealing with a number of challenges that limit their effectiveness.

Repeat offenders with open warrants can’t be rearrested because the jail is full.

“The department’s crime and disorder reduction efforts are severely hampered by chronic offenders in the community who repeatedly fail to respond to citations and/or scheduled court dates” the report concluded. “This results in the repeated issuance and recording of warrants that remain open.”

A “skyrocketing” rate of overdoses has been fueled by a state initiative that decriminalizes possession of methamphetamine, oxycodone and heroin, the report found.

Offenders who agree to rehabilitation frequently fail to sign up.

Enforcement of a downtown exclusion zone that seeks to prevent repeat offenders from entering the Main Street area has been severely hampered by the lack of jail beds.

“Due to the lack of detention space at the jail, enforcement via arrest is apparently no longer an option,” the report found.

The report recommends adding three more police officers and one community service officer to the Livability Team to deal with disorderly and nuisance problems.

“This team has become the standard around the state,” police Chief Justin Ivens said.

Medford has already applied for a grant to add these officers to the Livability Team, Ivens said.

The report recommends the addition of one sergeant and 10 patrol officers, as well as one community service office who can prepare reports, adding another person to the report-writing team.

Ivens said that he’s already looking at promoting someone internally to fill the new sergeant position.

The report recommended the investigations unit of the department be divided into smaller units to deal with violent crimes, financial crimes, forensics, burglary and auto theft. These smaller units could develop more expertise in these different areas of crime.

CPSM has recommended reassigning the forensic technician to investigations, requiring the hiring of another evidence specialist.

Ivens said his department will be looking at how to continue to respond to the recommendations in the report as it prepares for the future.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.