GRANTS PASS (AP) — Crime is up and prosecutions are down in Josephine County and the city of Grants Pass since deep cuts to the jail and the district attorney’s office were forced by voters who refused to raise their taxes to make up for the expiration of a federal timber subsidy.
The Grants Pass Daily Courier reported that burglaries were up 50 percent in Grants Pass and 45 percent in the rest of the southern Oregon county in 2012, compared with the previous year. Prosecutions were down 42 percent.
Grants Pass Public Safety Director Joe Henner said the county is seeing a failing criminal justice system.
“We’re seeing increased crime,” Henner said. “Our officers are saying they’re having more hostile and violent encounters with suspects, who are challenging them and fighting.”
Henner added that the numbers are likely to get worse.
Curry County officials, such as the sheriff, district attorney and commissioners, are closely tracking what’s happening in Josephine County, because Curry County residents will be voting May 21 on tax levy that would raise taxes specifically for public safety services.
Failure of the levy would result in drastic cuts to public safety services and departments, said Curry County Sheriff John Bishop.
“This is where we are headed if the cities and county (councilors and commissioners) cannot work together and set aside all of their own agendas and plans,” Bishop said in an email to the Pilot Tuesday. “The citizens will be the ones paying with the loss of quality of living.”
Midway through last year, deep cuts affected Josephine County’s jail, prosecution and rural patrol services, plus juvenile department services.
“A full year (of statistics) likely would show greater call increases,” Henner said.
Grants Pass liquor store owner Jack Ingvaldson said there is “anarchy in the alleys” of downtown.
“I’m putting in gates to keep them out,” he said. “I’m a pretty compassionate guy. I donate. But at what time does one run out of patience?”
At the Josephine County District Attorney’s office, about 1,000 fewer misdemeanor and felony cases were prosecuted last year, compared with the previous year, according to District Attorney Stephen Campbell. Last year, about 1,400 cases were prosecuted versus 2,400 prosecutions the previous year.
“I lost four attorneys (out of nine),” he said. “And that’s not a full year, either. I didn’t lose those attorneys until July 1.” Since then, a full-time and part-time attorney have been rehired.
Grants Pass Realtor Gerard Fitzgerald said the county is getting a reputation that threatens it economic future.
“People will not buy a house in an unsafe community,” Fitzgerald said. “Once a community gets a reputation, it takes a long time to turn that around. If we get branded, it will be very, very serious. Right now, I don’t think we have a reputation in Oregon as an unsafe community.”
Risk to reputation is a particular concern because people from California move here and visit here, generating jobs, he said.
“If you cannot attract economic growth, then we do not have the jobs,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a service economy. We now may have something that could threaten that service economy. We need to find a permanent, stable method of funding.”