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Hermiston Police Use Barking Dog Enforcement to Fight the War on Methamphetamine
EastOregonian, Oregon - USA
HERMISTON - If all the arrests by the Hermiston Police Department in 2004 for drunken driving and making and selling illegal drugs were added up, they still wouldn't come close to the number of charges for drug possession.
In a report the department compiled for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hermiston police officers charged people with 806 counts of drug possession in 2004. During the same year, 192 people were cited for drunk driving. Just three years before, in 2001, the department cited only 80 people for possession of illegal substances.
Lt. Greg Anderson cautioned against interpreting the 10 fold increase in possession cases over four years to mean there are more drugs in Hermiston. The amount of drugs has remained relatively constant, he said. It's the police department's approach to fighting drugs that has changed.
"We're adamant about eliminating illegal drugs from Hermiston," Anderson said.
Although the 806 number includes minor marijuana possession charges, which is not an arrestable offense in Oregon, Chief Dan Coulombe estimated about 80 percent of charges were related to methamphetamine. "It's easily the most common," he said.
At the same time, the total number of violent and property crimes reported within the city limits has fallen while the population continues to increase. "That's the best case scenario," Anderson said. Coulombe called it "nothing shy of phenomenal."
Called the Uniform Crime Report index, the FBI tracks the number of homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson. In 2004 the city had 684 reports of such crimes, down from 852 in 2003.
Hermiston has about 14,700 residents.
Anderson called the 20 percent drop "very significant," noting that the drug many agree is the biggest concern in Umatilla County, methamphetamine, is closely associated with crimes such as burglary and theft. As crime linked to the drug trade diminishes, so does drug crime, he said.
One expert agreed, calling the spike in Hermiston's number of possession charges a "huge increase." Nick McRee, a criminology professor at the University of Portland, said one indication that the amount of drugs in Hermiston is not on the rise is the reduction in the number of other crimes.
Although the incidence of robbery rose to nine reports in 2004, compared to four in 2003, the number of burglaries and larceny - which includes shoplifting and car prowling - have gone down.
"If you have not seen a spike in number of those crimes it could well show a shift in enforcement," McRee said.
Hermiston Police practice what is called "drug interdiction," which in part means officers are expected to always be on the look-out for drug activity, Anderson said, whether they are responding to a domestic violence call or a barking dog. Many citations also come from traffic stops.
"We're always looking for illicit drugs," Anderson said.
The program has been in place for more than two years, the same period that saw the dramatic rise in possession charges.
But McRee said the true measure of whether the campaign is effective is the conviction rate, or the percentage of people the courts find guilty.
A low percentage of convictions "means a lot of the arrests are shaky," McRee said.
At present the Umatilla County District Attorney's office does not keep records of conviction rates, said Chris Brauer, District Attorney.
"They just don't track it that way," Coulombe said. "That's really what you want to look at."
By the numbers
The number of drug charges in the city of Hermiston.
Source: Hermiston Police Department
Written by Craig
Spanish translation - Traducción al español
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