NORTH BEND — Crime is on the rise and the institutions capable of stemming the tide are either too short-staffed or underfunded to make a significant impact, according to Police Chief Robert Kappelman.
“I don’t want to see the Uniform Crime Reporting numbers for this last year,” he said Friday morning at North Bend City Council’s annual goal setting session. “When they are released in the next five to six months, they are going to be ugly.”
In previous presentations to councilors, Kappelman has noted that property crime rose 57 percent from 2014 to 2016. Each successive year saw around 100 additional property crimes reported, pushing the number from 401 in 2014 to this past year’s 629.
Car thefts in and around North Bend have also been increasing in frequency.
“We stand, as of today, at 12 stolen vehicles for this year,” Kappelman said. “That is way too many. This time last year we had two.”
The World previously reported that 50 stolen car reports had been filed between Jan. 1 to Feb 28 of this year, compared to just three during the same period in 2016.
"That is alarming," Coos Bay Police Chief Gary McCullough said at the time.
On Friday, Kappelman said Coos Bay was approaching 80 stolen vehicles since Jan 1.
“We have a problem,” Capt. Pat Downing at the Coos County Sheriff's Office said. “We're seeing two to three cars stolen every day…”
Coos Bay Police Sergeant Hugo Hatzel described the string of vehicle thefts as an epidemic.
He said many of the people arrested for the thefts have a record of stealing vehicles.
On more than one occasion, perpetrators have been housed at the Coos County Jail only to be released and arrested again for grand theft auto.
Once it happened in the same day.
“There was one vehicle stolen from Coquille right after a person got out of jail because they needed a ride back to town,” Hatzel said. “He had the right opportunity at the right time.”
On Friday afternoon, Coos Bay Police Officers arrested Jason Garcia, 19, at Berger’s Top Service Body Shop and charged him with 12 counts of unlawful entry into a motor vehicle (UEMV).
According to a department press release, Garcia was discovered inside the shop wearing rubber gloves and in possession of stolen property which included several sets of car keys, credit cards, an Oregon Driver License, ammunition and roughly $50 in “small currency.”
Garcia was taken into custody and charged with second degree burglary, second degree criminal mischief and second degree theft along with the dozen counts of unlawful entry into a motor vehicle.
On Monday, department staff confirmed officers transported Garcia to the county jail where he was booked and later released.
The press release issued Monday afternoon warned citizens that Garcia was suspected to “continue to commit property crimes such as UEMV, burglary and theft.
“If anyone sees Mr. Garcia wandering around their neighborhood, or around parked cars, the Coos Bay Police Department is asking that you call 9-1-1 immediately.”
One of the drivers fueling the apparently rampant recidivism is a lack of jail beds, according to law enforcement officials.
“We've gone from 98 jail beds to 42 because we have positions that can't be filled,” Capt. Downing said, before explaining a dearth of qualified applicants, when they applied at all, was also an issue.
Last year, the county had a $2 million shortfall in its budget, which inhibited the Sheriff's Department's ability to raise wages to a competitive level.
When the department had a full staff and 150 jail beds, the policy for repeat offenders was to keep them in custody until seen by a judge, a policy which is no longer in place.
In August 2015, the Sheriff’s Department directed North Bend to cite and release due to lack of beds.
It was a request that Kappelman and his officers demurred.
“If (the Sheriffs) are going to release because (they) can’t hold (criminals) that decision is on (them),” Kappelman said. “It's my responsibility to protect the people in this city."
He said it was becoming somewhat routine for North Bend police officers to radio by dispatch that they are bringing arrested individuals to the County Jail, only to be met with resistance. “The jail will respond, ‘we are not going to hold them’ and we say, ‘Well, we are coming.’”
There are times when jail staff does not even open the sally-port door for the arriving officers.
“At which point we do have to cite and release but we do that at the door, at the jail,” Kappelman said, adding that Mike Crim, Coos County’s Director of Community Corrections, had warned him that Oregon Department of Corrections was mulling contracting with other counties. “They pay a set dollar amount for a set number of beds and they are not getting those beds.”
On March 1, The World reported that State Corrections overpaid the county by $131,000 for beds that weren't available.
Sheriff Craig Zanni has stated in the past that his goal was to return the jail’s capacity to 100 beds.
“I think that resolves the vast majority of the concerns we have in the county,” he said in a work session in February with Coos County Commissioners and Community Corrections.
Since December, North Bend has sought to address crime and reduce staff overtime hours by bolstering its police force with four new officers.
The city is still determining how to best fund the move.
Chief McCullough in Coos Bay expressed skepticism when questioned by The World regarding the additional officers' potential efficacy.
"They could put criminals in the back of police cars and drive them around town because there's nowhere else to go since there isn't room at the jail," he said. "We are a network and when one piece is not functioning to meet the needs of the other pieces, it causes a ripple effect."
Kappelman said he understands such a reactive mindset.
“Increasing our police presence will have a preventive impact on activity here,” he explained.
“(Criminals) still fight and they still run from us — which means they still don’t want to be caught — and so if we can create the fear of being caught simply because we have a greater presence, we will reduce the amount of crime.”
World reporter Saphara Harrell contributed to this story.