Crime is not on the rise in Bend. Of course, it depends on how you look at it.
But if you look at the overall number of reported crimes and compare that to Bend’s population growth, the crime rate is not increasing.
The perception may be that crime is increasing, nonetheless. What is going on?
“We are not having a drastic increase,” Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz told us. “In fact, violent crimes, things that people would consider violent crimes, are slightly reducing.”
Go back to 2010. Bend had a population of about 76,000. There were 247 reported violent crimes. And there were 2,410 reported property crimes. Violent crimes are person-to-person crimes, such as robbery, homicide and assaults.
Go to 2020. Bend had a population of just under 100,000. There were 174 reported violent crimes. And there were 1,959 reported property crimes.
All crimes dropped off in Bend during the pandemic. Krantz said the most recent data fits trends before the pandemic. There may be an increase in raw numbers, not so much if you consider the population increase. He did say low level property crimes are showing the highest increase in rates. Those are things, such as criminal mischief, trespassing and low level thefts — shoplifting items below $50 in value. He did not have exact rates at his fingertips.
The question that comes up again and again is if an increase in homelessness in Bend contributes to a disproportionate increase in crimes. Krantz doesn’t know, not with any certainty.
“I think the perception is from what people see and what people think that there is a disproportionate amount of crime committed by homeless individuals,” he said. “But it is difficult for us in law enforcement to put an actual number or ratio to that because we do not track homelessness or housing status of individuals.”
As a practical matter, housing status would be difficult to track. It can change overnight. It doesn’t for many people. It can for some. Krantz said there are many things police do not routinely track. Political affiliation. Clubs people belong to. Employment status. And housing status. Those factors fall outside the need of law enforcement. He said if police began tracking housing status outside of a true need to perform their duties there would be plenty of civil rights attorneys lined up asking questions.
He said when people call and report something they see, they can have an expectation that the problem will go away. That may not happen. Police exercise discretion. Think about traffic violations. Does everyone get a citation every time? No. There are a lot of warnings and conversations. That applies with other crimes, as well.
Many low level crimes, such as public urination, are citations at the most for everybody, regardless of housing status. People are not arrested and removed from the area. Police sometimes get calls for drug use, such as shooting up heroin right out in the open. With the changes implemented by Measure 110 passed by Oregon voters, Krantz pointed out, possession of small amounts of drugs are now a citation. It doesn’t get people arrested.
“A person gets a ticket at best,” Krantz said. “And then people get the perception that the police are not doing anything.”
Some people use illegal drugs on the street. Some people use illegal drugs in homes. Some people struggle with mental illness on the street. Some people struggle with mental illness in homes. Bend residents may see what is happening on the streets. That doesn’t mean it is not happening in homes, as well.
Should Bend residents be satisfied with the city’s crime levels? Any number of violent crimes are too many. Any number of lower level offenses disrupt lives.
Police, though, can only do so much. They are not everywhere at every time. They face limits of what any action they take will accomplish. Yes they do exercise discretion — when should they just talk, when should they issue a warning or take further action.
Bigger changes would require more than tweaks in how police officers use their discretion. Voters could organize and make changes to Measure 110. The Bend City Council could set reasonable limits for camping on public property. If you want bigger changes, that is largely up to who you vote for and what you tell them you want.