Crime doesn't pay — it costs

Crime is clearly on the upswing in Medford. While this city is still safer than many other places, the trend is troubling. The solution is deceptively simple: Spend more money. The trick is figuring out where that money will come from and where it should be spent.

In 2012, Type 1 felony offenses, which include murder, robbery and assault, were more numerous than in 2006. Some categories were up dramatically.

Drug-related offenses, for instance, shot up 73 percent from 2006 to 2012. Robberies were up 66 percent; assaults rose 52 percent.

Police point to the usual suspects when asked why crime is on the increase. Forced releases from the county jail because of overcrowding put lawbreakers back on the street before they can be tried, convicted and sentenced. Drug use also fuels crime, especially methamphetamine, which tends to make its users violent, and heroin, which prompts addicts to commit property crimes to support their habits.

The Great Recession, which caused unemployment to spike, added stress to the lives of those out of work. The same economic downturn limited tax revenue flowing to state agencies, which were forced to make cuts in mental health services and drug abuse treatment programs.

County jail space is a real concern, and officials plan to add 62 beds to address that problem. But the money needed to staff the extra space has not yet been found.

The Jackson County District Attorney's Office faces budget pressures, too, and likely will lose one deputy district attorney as a result. DA Beth Heckert plans to streamline the way cases are handled to work smarter, but the cuts will still be felt.

It's easy to respond to rising crime rates by saying government should get tougher on criminals, locking up more of them for longer periods to make the community safer. But experience has shown that's the most expensive solution.

Mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment programs are effective at keeping people out of jail and prison in the first place, at a lower cost. But when those programs suffer budget cuts, the resulting increase in crime rates pushes more people into the criminal justice system.

Law enforcement and criminal justice officials are doing the best they can to cope with shrinking resources and rising crime. Their efforts are appreciated, but doing more with less goes only so far. Eventually, more money, wisely spent, will be needed to make a real dent in the crime rate.

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