Taking a bite out of it

Medford had more police officers per capita last year than any large Oregon city except Portland and Beaverton.

Some in city government would like it to have even more.

Police officials appeared to be making that case again, if subtly, last week as they discussed the Medford crime rate outlined in a new report from the FBI.

Crime is down across Oregon, it said, but it's rising in Medford. Our violent crime — murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults — are up 6 percent. Drug crimes: up 19 percent. Burglaries: up 40 percent.

They are numbers sure to strike fear into the hearts of residents everywhere. And where there's fear, there's the potential that we'll be more willing to agree to pay higher taxes to increase the police force.

More officers, though, might not be the answer to every problem Medford has. The city could have an officer for every citizen and still not get at the problems causing the crime in the first place.

In Medford those problems appear to sprout from several places: With incomes lower than Oregon's average and a jobless rate that's higher than the state average, we're more likely to struggle financially.

Women in our region, we learned in a Mail Tribune story last week, are more likely than women elsewhere to abuse alcohol, cigarettes or drugs while they're pregnant. Sources in the story spoke of a culture that allows that pattern to continue through generations. Most crimes in the area have ties to drugs.

We struggle in education and industry. The Rogue Valley needs industries that provide good jobs and a work force educated to fill jobs that aren't in a fast-food restaurant or at the mall.

How can city government help? It can push the focus to affecting the mindset that goes into crime in the first place rather than putting ever-increasing resources toward cleaning up after the fact.

City outreach workers can help build community and pride. When people are part of something positive, they're less likely to turn to the negative. The broader community can work on education and attitude.

Police officials probably wouldn't argue with that approach. But they continue to push for more help on the force anyway, and that turns the focus away from looking at broader ways of addressing the problems.

In February, Police Chief Randy Schoen told the City Council that a jump in criminal activity makes the case for hiring more officers. He said he'd like four to seven new positions on top of the five Medford added three years ago.

Last week, Deputy Chief Tim George told the Mail Tribune that the crime rate is high because of strong support for police. "If you live in a community like this one that supports its police you will see high crime numbers," he said.

You can spin the numbers lots of ways. Police no doubt could use more help. And yet that shouldn't be the only option on the table as Medford considers how to address crime numbers that ought to trouble us all.

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