Two years ago a group of business owners and residents got up before the Bend City Council and complained that downtown’s atmosphere was being corroded.
People were being driven away. Annoying and sometimes frightening behavior was making people uncomfortable — or reluctant to come downtown at all.
Downtown businesses, the Bend City Council, and the Bend Police Department did not take the concerns for granted. Cameras were installed in some areas. Efforts were made to improve the safety in the parking garage. Some enclosed areas for dumpsters downtown, which could be used to conceal illegal activity, were removed or changed. The city also has a policy that allows repeat offenders to be excluded from the downtown area.
Perhaps most significantly, the police ramped up foot patrols downtown — with support from councilors. There can be no more powerful deterrent than police walking by or for people to expect officers might come walking around the corner.
We don’t know what metrics would be an authoritative measure of success for the feel of safety downtown, but there has not been that same sort of concerted level of complaints at a council meeting on this issue. Things do seem to have changed for the better. Business owners say they have noticed an improvement, though, surely there are exceptions.
Bend police also reported this week a decline in calls between Memorial Day and Labor Day for certain incidents in the downtown area .
Calls for unwanted subjects declined from 148 in 2017 to 117 in 2019. Calls about an intoxicated subject went from 70 in 2017 to 38 in 2019. Mental health calls declined from 44 in 2017 to 27 in 2019. And there are more numbers showing a similar pattern.
The city needs to keep up its efforts and look for ways to improve on what it has done. Homelessness and mental health issues will continue to pose difficult challenges. The quality of Bend’s downtown cannot be allowed to slip.