Downtown Bend business owners near Drake Park say increased police foot patrols in the last two years have reduced most criminal behavior.

“What we’ve seen this year is a giant reduction in our issues,” said Kalie Wilburn, manager of The Commons Cafe, which is next to the park. “We’ve had two or maybe one call all summer.”

Wilburn’s comments were echoed at neighboring businesses also facing the Brooks Alley courtyard — the scene of numerous community events but also for years a hot spot of drug and other criminal activity.

“It’s been pretty quiet this summer,” said Joane Barker, manager of The Beach Hut Deli.

Bend Police Department notified the media Tuesday of statistics showing sharp declines in crime near the Mirror Pond parking lot area off Drake Park. Police stats show that between 2017 and 2019:

• Calls reporting unwanted subjects decreased 20%.

• Trespassing calls decreased 53%.

• Calls reporting intoxicated people decreased 46%.

• Assault and dispute calls decreased 40%.

• Theft calls decreased 60%.

• Mental health calls decreased 38%.

When the Great Recession hit in late 2009, businesses downtown took a big hit. Well-to-do tourists were replaced with a transient population and increases in criminal behavior, according to several business representatives.

Other regions of town also see regular criminal activity, such as The Forum in east Bend and the Old Mill. But businesses there have more tools at their disposal because those areas are located entirely on private property. In downtown, however, Drake Park, the commons courtyard and the Mirror Pond parking lots are public areas and the purview of the Bend City Council, which beginning in 2016 directed Police Chief Jim Porter to go after crime downtown.

Porter attributed the drop in downtown crime to multiple factors, not just one.

“It’s been a series of best practices,” he said Tuesday.

These include using the city code to exclude frequent lawbreakers from downtown and altering the physical environment around Drake Park by removing dumpster enclosures and adding parking spaces to the Mirror Pond parking lot. The Bend City Council in 2016 approved the formation of the three-officer Problem Oriented Policing Team, which regularly patrols areas, like Drake Park, that have been identified as high-crime areas.

Since Porter was appointed in 2014, the department has added 11 officer positions, including two school resource officers. During recent summers, the resource officers have been assigned to patrol the Drake Park area for several hours per shift.

An officer walking a beat is effective at reducing criminal activity, Porter said.

“It does two things: It puts the officer on two feet to observe crimes taking place,” he said. “No. 2, it provides a degree of security when people see officers on foot moving around in the downtown area.”

In addition to making the merchants comfortable, customers are more likely to make purchases when they feel safe, said Ben Hemson, business advocate for the city of Bend.

“If there’s a perception of lack of safety, that’s the same as a lack of safety to a lot of people,” he said.

The City Council is now focusing on the Juniper Ridge area as the epicenter of homelessness, Hemson said.

Adi Essig was practicing yoga in Drake Park near The Commons Cafe. Essig, who currently lives in his car, said he supports laws against threatening behavior and aggressive panhandling, but he said many efforts to make cities more “family friendly” seem to criminalize poverty.

“I don’t support the use of municipal ordinances to harass people who are sleeping outdoors or who look different or who are in poverty,” he said. “In some places, I think they just don’t want to see poor people in public.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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