Consider the source.
That’s Curry County Sheriff John Bishop’s attitude when it comes to crime statistics — whether they’re reported by the state, the feds or the media.
That was the case last week when The Oregonian, in a four-part series about crime in cash-strapped southern Oregon counties, provided a chart showing Curry County’s crime rate had spiked 94 percent in the past seven years.
Not so fast, Bishop said.
He — along with police chiefs in each city and the state police — report their crimes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which disseminates them to state agencies. One of those agencies is the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission.
The Oregonian got its chart from the state, and the information in it started in 2007.
But according to Bishop, 2007 was the lowest point on the state’s graph of crime statistics for Curry County.
“My theory is, that is the year the county had massive layoffs,” Bishop said. “People either never got arrested, or (crime) never got reported.
Crime in 1991, he noted, was higher and numbers steadily dropped — and in 2007 took a dive. Since then, they’ve slowly increased back to the numbers reported in 1991.
In 1991, Curry County, its cities and state police reported 2,131 arrests; in 2007, it was 1,160 — possibly reflecting the halving of Bishop’s staff — and in 2012, arrests were back up, to 2,245.
“That’s about 100 cases since 1991,” Bishop noted. “That’s about 5.5 percent.”
His office alone reported 822 arrests in 1991 and 978 in 2012.
“That’s our numbers,” he said. “In 2002, the numbers started to go down; the reporting or accounting could’ve changed. What did the cities do (that might have reflected a change)? There are so many factors that play into it. And (The Oregonian) only went back five years.”
Bishop isn’t sure which elements the CJC uses, how it extrapolates data or further disseminates what information it gets; phone calls to the agency were not returned.
Sometimes the information reflects all crime, Bishop said. Other times it might include those in which someone was arrested — or arrested and convicted. The dramatic spikes over the years can reflect changing laws — such as when Measure 11, requiring minimum sentencing guidelines for those having committed the severest of crimes, went into effect.
Huge spikes in such statistics can also reflect the size of a community. While Curry County pretty much follows the general trends of state crime numbers, the spikes — up and down — are larger, as they represent a larger percentage of the county’s and state’s population.
A population increase of merely 1,000 does represent an increase of almost 17 percent.
Brookings Police Chief Chris Wallace said there was a double homicide the second week he was on the department, back in 1992.
“We go 25 years and don’t have anything,” he said. “And all of a sudden, we go up 300 percent.”
And there are years in which there are aberrations no one can explain.
For instance, in 2001, Wallace said, Brookings Police had 179 reportable theft cases. That increased by six in 2013, to 185 — a negligible amount.
“But go to 2005, and there were 477,” Wallace said. “It’s such a huge spike, and it’s not consistent for the 10 years we’re looking at. The next year, (2006) it’s 377, then slowly goes back to the norm.”
Also, warrant arrests in Brookings in 2001 totalled 137; in 2013, there were 92 — for no reasons Wallace can bring to mind.
An example Bishop cited is the CJC’s “crimes reported” in Curry County. It reads: 10,884 in 2007, and 10,069 in 2012. Those numbers reflect a “rate” — Bishop has no idea what they are supposed to represent.
“Now you see why we don’t pay attention to statistics,” Bishop said with a laugh. “Their numbers (reported by the Oregonian) aren’t wrong; it’s just the year they used.”
Wallace agrees with Bishop about how numbers can go unreported or counted twice.
“This is a big monkey to wrestle with,” he said. “And I disagree with a lot of those numbers (of Bishop’s). We cite and release someone here — that’s technically an arrest — they appear in court and arraigned, they’re booked in (to jail), and if John takes that as an arrest, it isn’t even his case. Right off the bat, you’re going to get skewed numbers.”
Brookings Police Lt. Donny Dotson said Brookings gets about 400 to 500 arrests — including people who are cited for minor infractions — each year.
Crime at home
Crime isn’t rampant here, Dotson said.
“It’s changed, indeed, but I wouldn’t say that it’s gotten worse here in the city,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that at all.”
“Narcotics, burglaries and thefts — which is what it’s been forever,” Bishop said. “Narcotics drive a lot of the criminal activity. That’s what we see happening. And that’s true for all of us: the cities, everything.”
Bishop keeps tabs on criminal activity in neighboring counties, as they face the same financial constraints as Curry County — and increasing reports of crime, some of which cannot even be addressed.
It’s not the Mexican Mafia — gang-related activity that originated in Los Angeles — but the drug cartels that have infiltrated most of Mexico and whose arms are reaching steadily into neighboring countries, including the United States, Bishop stated.
“They’re two totally different entities,” he said. “The drug cartels are providing the methamphetamine and the heroin. Klamath County has a huge problem with the cartels, but it’s really a West Coast problem.”
Bishop has made his plea to county commissioners for what his department needs in terms of finances, and he’s presented his idea to ask voters for a property tax increase of 68 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation to fund jail operations. Now, he said, it’s up to them.
Bishop doesn’t claim to be able to predict the future, with his budget or crime. He even expresses wonderment that his staff has been able to keep crime at bay, considering his staffing levels.
“We have just worked our butts off,” he said. “The deputies are still getting it done.”
And the face of the county changes over the years, they all agree.
“Certainly, there’s been changes; Brookings is not the same town that I graduated from in 1987, Wallace said. “But people across the United States will say their hometown is not the same as when they grew up. You don’t know everyone here like you used to — that small-town environment.
“And methamphetamine has changed the game; the element of crime that comes up from California is an issue,” Wallace added. “But pick up any metropolitan newspaper and you’ll go, ‘Man, I am very, very pleased to live in Brookings, Oregon.’ It’s a spectacular place to live and work and grow up. It’s a little slice of heaven.”