Medford's crime numbers are up nearly across the board this year, with the traditional busiest months for criminal activity yet to come, police officials said.
The 20.6 percent increase overall is not limited to minor crimes such as shoplifting, up 6 percent over this time last year, or trespassing, up 62 percent, but also to serious person crimes, such as assault and robbery.
By the end of July, the department had responded to 776 assault calls, up from 757 the previous year. A deeper look at those totals points to a disturbing uptick in aggravated assault, a more serious crime that often ends in major injuries. Officers have investigated 139 aggravated assaults this year, up from 100 at this time in 2010.
In addition, robberies have increased from 21 to 39, and strong-arm robberies — in which force is used — skyrocketed from 1 to 11.
The city has seen six murders this year, up from four at this time in 2010. The Criado family homicides account for the abnormally high number.
Five of the murders are 30-year-old Tabasha Paige-Criado and her four children, who perished when Jordan Criado allegedly killed his wife and set his home on fire with the children inside.
Reasons for the increase in nearly all crimes are elusive, Medford police Sgt. Don Lane said.
"It's probably not just one thing, but a lot of factors coming together to cause crime to go up," Lane said.
The tough economy could be one culprit, as could the erosion of social programs that benefit those in need of housing and rehabilitation. Another factor could be an officer shortage within the department, something that has plagued the agency for more than a year.
"We have definitely been down officers for a while," Lane said. "We've had a lot of retirements and some of the new people we've hired did not pass the training period. But we are getting some new officers soon, which will be a good thing."
The shortage leaves each patrol team down at least one person, causing the other officers to pick up the slack, Lane said.
"Our officers are busy from the time of the beginning of their shift until they leave," he said.
On Friday night, Lane cruised from call to call, performing welfare checks on elderly folks who have not been heard from in a while, speaking with a man who said his partner was harassing him and assisting an officer on this team with an overdosing woman sprawled out on the ground outside a hotel. While responding to these calls, Lane made traffic stops, warning lead-footed drivers to slow down.
These calls rolled in about an hour's time. And this was before the bar scene began to gather steam downtown.
Medford police Chief Tim George said the busiest season is yet to come.
"December is our busiest time, for sure," George said. "You have the holidays, which brings more people into town. There is also more drinking that goes on during the holidays."
But is there a silver lining to a yearlong spike in crime numbers? George and Lane think so.
Lane points to an increase in arrests for driving while under the influence and illegal weapons as a sign that his officers are doing a good job of being proactive while on duty.
"The DUIIs and weapons charges show that we're around out there looking under every rock to deter crime," Lane said. "Usually, when we find an illegal weapon, it's because an officer dug around and found it. Those things rarely fall in your lap."
Lane said alcohol continues to drive the bulk of crime an officer sees on a nightly basis.
Disorderly conduct calls have increased 20 percent this year, up to 505 from 422 in 2010.
"Those calls are usually related to people drinking and causing problems, be it fighting or trying to instigate a fight," Lane said.
In another distressing statistic, the agency is dealing with more people suffering from mental illness. Among them are those who have attempted or completed suicide.
Suicide calls are up more than 100 percent, with 188 calls this year over 93 by July 2010.
Lane expects the rush of calls to continue throughout the year.
"We still make it a priority to be proactive out there to curb crime before it happens," he said. "But when you are rushing from call to call, it's hard to do sometimes."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or by email at email@example.com.