Some new tools have been offered as options for the city of Corvallis as it faces continuing livability issues in its downtown core and natural areas, particularly Central Park.
Police Chief Jonathan Sassaman and Karen Emery, director of Parks and Recreation, briefed the City Council on Monday on the results of their review of tools used by Ashland and Eugene to battle issues such as alcohol and drug use, illegal smoking, littering, disorderly conduct and theft
The review follows a September CPD tactical action plan initiated to crack down on problems in Central Park and a fiery Oct. 16 speech by Ward 2 Councilor Roen Hogg, who charged that the crackdown was not working,
“Bring something to the table so we can vote on it,” Hogg demanded.
Possible options to pursue, Sassaman and Emery reported, would be:
• An exclusion ordinance that would give the municipal court judge the authority to exclude offenders from defined areas.
• Smoking prohibitions.
• Dog prohibitions.
• Increasing the municipal court budget to jail more offenders.
• Approaching more cases as “criminal” cases rather than “violations” with attendant extra costs for counsel, jury fees, etc.
• Increasing CPD resources to target the problem behaviors.
• Increasing Parks and Rec funding to allow for more cleanups of camps and storage of campers’ possessions.
The CPD’s community livability officers toured Ashland on Nov. 21 and Eugene on Nov. 22. Ashland hired additional police officers just to work its downtown core, while Eugene has a team of officers who only handle car camping issues. In addition, Jackson County (Ashland) has two jail beds and Lane County (Eugene) has 10 jail beds that judges can use to incarcerate repeat offenders. Such a plan here would cost $150 per day per bed, Sassaman said.
Adding the three or four CPD officers necessary to implement the initiatives would cost more than $500,000 per year, Sassaman said, noting the training, equipment, vehicles and benefits that are required in addition to an officer’s salary.
“We need to have safe parks,” said Hogg, “and I appreciate the effort here.”
Hogg said he supported all of the initiatives except the ones on smoking and dogs, which he said could benefit from exploration by the Downtown Corvallis Association. Other councilors agreed, although some were concerned about the advisability of an exclusionary ordinance.
And all of the changes will cost money.
“Where do these issues line in our priorities?” asked Ward 8 Councilor Mark Page in an effort to focus the discussion. “What can we push off?”
Barbara Bull of Ward 4 said she didn’t think it was possible to fund any new tools “by cutting other things.”
City Manager Mark Shepard said one possibility would be to try to add some of the initiatives to the city’s strategic operational plan in the first quarter of 2018. Using the planned renewal of the city’s local option property tax levy also is an option.
Ward 1 Councilor Penny York urged quicker action.
“I think we have an immediate problem,” she said. “More dollars for the police force is something we cannot do quickly. I would like to see some results sooner.”
The report also included some dramatic figures on police and court caseloads. Sassaman’s department analyzed arrest figures citywide for Jan. 1 through Oct. 20 and found that:
Just 25 of the arrestees accounted for 265 arrests, 197 open court cases, 309 failed to appear cases, 220 arrest warrants, 110 failure to appear violations, 167 unpaid fines and 88 bookings in the Benton County Jail. Twenty-three of the 25 self-reported as having no address, while 12 listed the men’s cold weather shelter.