October 4, 2022

Whole Community News

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University, EPD ask neighbors to stay engaged, continue to report crimes

8 min read
University officials and Eugene's police chief met with the South University Neighborhood Association Nov. 8, 2021.

University officials and Eugene's police chief met with the South University Neighborhood Association Nov. 8, 2021.

University officials and Eugene’s police chief met this month with the South University neighborhood.

[00:00:05] Nancy Meyer: My name is Nancy Meyer and I’m a member of the South University Neighborhood Association board. Thank you all for attending this meeting about the recent uptick in crime that we’ve all been seeing around the city and around our neighborhood. We’re very fortunate tonight to have several university representatives.

[00:00:27] Dean of Students, Marcus Lankford: My name is Marcus Lankford and although I’m new to the Dean of Students role, actually, I’ve been at U of O for a little over four years. I came first as an Assistant Dean and then had the opportunity to serve as an Associate Dean before stepping into this role this past summer.

[00:00:45] A lot of what my role in our office really does, is to try to really be mindful of the student experience and engaging students whether that’s through helping them develop a community on campus, be better members of the community off campus, and then also help them through crisis and to get them involved and engaged as well. But looking forward to meeting and potentially working with many of you in the future.

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[00:01:13] University of Oregon Deputy Police Chief, Jason Wade: Hi everyone. I’m Deputy Chief Jason Wade. For me, the idea of crime reduction and getting rid of crime or preventing crime is through relationships. And it’s truly just connecting with people who live nearby the campus, live on campus, the students, the members of the community and just really, if everyone gets to know each other, when we can all work together, I think that’s going to help make the neighborhoods a little bit better.

[00:01:39] Community Relations Program Manager, Cami Thompson: My name is Cami Thompson. I’ve been on the Community Relations team as the liaison between the University and South University neighborhood. My position really keeps South University Neighbors apprised of updates and happenings on campus. And then I can also be a conduit of information the other direction, locating information or resources for neighbors when questions and problems arise, and work towards better neighborhood relations in areas where student residents and permanent residents live side by side, like South University neighborhood.

[00:02:13] Executive Director of Security, Benjamin McNulty: Benjamin McNulty of the University of Oregon Police Department. Certainly with respect to risk, life safety risk, we know that that’s a multitudinal multi-complex issue with personnel, policy, technology, climate. How do we do everything we can to make sure that all of our vulnerability reductions are in place, right? And so we are always looking to reduce our vulnerabilities. And that can be lighting, it can be preparedness, situational awareness, additional directive patrols, both sworn and professional staff. And so let this just be my public commitment to you to doing everything we can from the University side and all or adjacent roadways to try to make sure we’re being creative.

[00:02:51] Nancy Meyer: So now I would like to turn the meeting over to Eugene’s Chief of Police, Chris Skinner, from his car, I believe.

[00:02:58] EPD Police Chief Chris Skinner: I’ll be coming to you from my mobile office because it’s been one of those days, so… (laughing).

[00:03:05] Nancy Meyer: Well, I think that’s a first for our Zooms.

[00:03:07] EPD Police Chief Chris Skinner: Yeah. Unfortunately, it’s from my car. It’s one of those Mondays where you end up handling issues up to the last second, you know. Let me just introduce myself just a little bit. My name is Chris Skinner. I’ve been your chief of police since April of 2018. And for all of us this last year, it almost just felt like it’s been dog years going through 2020 and early 2021. So it does certainly feel a lot longer than that.

[00:03:31] And so we’ve ,through the pandemic, have eased our enforcement in an effort to adhere to some CDC guidance around allowing people to shelter in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. And what we’ve seen is, we’ve brought people out of the woodwork that at one point we never knew existed or were out of sight out of mind and we brought them front and center. And so it feels overwhelming right now for many people. People are just really, really worn out. And they’re just really tired of an awful lot of the things that are happening right now.

[00:04:06] With many people saying homelessness has created this uptick in crime, in some neighborhoods that probably is absolutely the truth, especially with some of the lower level crimes that involve theft and shoplifting. I call it survival behavior by individuals engaging in that kind of criminal behavior.

[00:04:26] And so the idea has been, how we can be more responsive to the needs of our community. Some of those are victims of crime who have experienced or woken up the next morning or found, a day later, that they’ve been victimized by either a car break-in or a burglary or something stolen. And we need to figure out how to get to them quicker and spend the amount of time with them that they deserve and we’re just underperforming in that area.

[00:04:53] For me, it’s just a simple economics equation. There’s just way too much demand and I don’t have the supply. We’re down 22 police officers. We cannot get people to be a police officer in this day and time. I will tell you that our candidate pool is shallow. A great example is this last entry-level recruitment. We started with 50. We took 34-35 to interview. And we may be making a job offer to two people.

[00:05:21] And we’re losing people for a variety of reasons. People are retiring the moment they can retire, they’re choosing to step away. We’ve lost people that have just chosen to get out of this profession all together. And then the third category is those that still want to be police officers, but don’t feel like they can be effective in the state of Oregon. And so they’ve moved out of state and become police officers in places like you know, Montana, Idaho, Texas.

[00:05:42] I understand that sometimes there’s some things on the outside that look as if this state or maybe that this community is not supporting their police officers. But I firmly believe that overwhelmingly this community supports the function of law enforcement and public safety, supports their police officers, and I think our Council and City leadership is mindful of how we can continue to evolve but also supporting the men and women that choose to serve every single day.

[00:06:10] The council convened their working group of BIPOC community of 30 members that made 50 recommendations around police reform. And we’re going through to determine which ones are the ones that we can do through either an executive decision by me or putting some processes in place and some involves the changing of state law or city charter or collective bargaining law.

[00:06:37] Our state legislature has passed upwards of 23 different legislative measures or bills that speak directly to police reform and we’re working on the different timelines of when those take effect, being prepared to be in compliance with that. I’m just happy to say that here in Eugene we’ve got work to do, but there’s been an awful lot of effort that I think has put us in a really good position to adhere to those legislative mandates, because we’ve done so much work up to this point. When you think about civilian oversight model that we have, which is unique for an agency our size, our CAHOOTS partnership is nationally known, our body cam program is as robust as it is. There’s so many things that we’ve been doing for a number of years.

[00:07:18] And so we do one of two things. We either ramp up supply and that’s what I’m trying to do. Or we lower the demand, which is figure out a way to do some things creatively so that we’re preventing crime or preventing people from having to call us. And I will tell you the thing that concerns me right now is the fact that so many people are frustrated with the lack of response is that I know that there’s crime victims out there that aren’t even bothering to call us. And so when I think about the 500 calls for service a day, I think that undershoots the need that we have in our community. And even as we underperform and struggle to keep up with demand, it’s still important data for us to have so that we can articulate where we’re seeing problems and where we need to put resources and where we justify more resources. Please go ahead and continue to be frustrated and demand more from us. And please call us so that we can at least we can get that statistic in there so that we can better analyze what’s going on.

[00:08:20] We can look at hotspots. We can look at what is, feels like an uptick, but overall from a city perspective, it’s pretty flat with the exception of one category. Our domestic violence is up about 24%.. The other piece that I’m really worried about, there are so many of our kids that are in really unhealthy home environments that involve abusive behaviors that I think we’re going to see an uptick in disclosure, and we’ve already seen a huge uptick in suicidal ideology as young as ages five and six and more incidents of that than we’ve seen in years past.

[00:08:56] This state recently passed legislation that decriminalized the use and possession of narcotics to include heroin, methamphetamine, and the like, and so what we’re left with is a higher level of frustration, especially for those in our business districts that are watching people that are either using or the passing of these narcotics, this high level of frustration that it’s not a crime anymore.

[00:09:23] And I’ve seen more conflict between people than I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not just a public safety issue. It’s a public health, public safety, and a mental health issue that we need to lean into.

[00:09:35] John Q: The City and the University ask neighborhoods to stay engaged, and please continue to report crimes, even as our public safety system adapts to a dynamic workforce.

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