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Introducing the Weekly Column – Victims’ Voices of Josephine County

Victims’ Voices of Josephine County

By K. David Smith

This column introduces a weekly series whose aim is to give the human perspective behind the crisis in criminal justice funding in Josephine County, Oregon. In May, 2012, the voters of Josephine County rejected a ballot measure that would have increased property taxes to partially replace lost federal subsidies that had long funded the operations of the County’s Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney, Jail, and Juvenile Justice Center. As a result, more than 90 criminal justice personnel were let go, jail capacity was greatly reduced, and many crimes went unpunished.

It is difficult to estimate what the impact has been, since the Sheriff (whose office patrols an area 25% larger than the state of Rhode Island) is no longer able to capture reliable statistics on crime in the County. Many victims no longer report crimes, or even call 911, since they know there are no Deputies available to respond. In many cases, victims trying to report crimes in progress simply reach an answering machine. By a rough estimate, crime in Josephine County has increased by perhaps 40 to 50 percent since May 2012.

Lost in the heated debate over property taxes, the pros and cons of various funding mechanisms, and the lingering bitterness over the decline of the lumber industry that forms the historical basis for the crisis… has been the voices of the actual victims of the crimes that are being perpetrated in Josephine County.

This column, which will be available online at the end of every week, will attempt to give these good people caught in a bad situation a place to speak out. Hear their stories. And then do what you can to make a difference.

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The loss of funding for criminal justice services in Josephine County has not only impacted individual residents – sometimes tragically – but has also affected local business. From supermarkets to convenience stores, hotels to gas stations, mom-and-pop retail shops to big-box stores… all have seen a dramatic increase in crime.

In some cases, the losses have been mostly a hassle, though with considerable costs associated. For example, a local gas station stopped providing free air and water to customers because the bronze nozzle on the air hose had been stolen so many times. Replacing it over and over again simply became too expensive. The station owner had the unit removed and contracted the service out to a vendor. An attendant reported that the thieves were probably addicts who were selling the nozzles for scrap value to fund their addictions. This kind of incident has become all too common across the County.

In other cases, criminal activity has come close to driving local businesses to ruin. For example, the owner of a local wholesale car lot reports that in just the last 30 days, five vehicles were stolen, and another twelve were broken into and vandalized.

“Insurance has been cancelled from so many reports over the last year and we have over $30k in losses just this month,” he says. “At this rate, our car lot is not going to survive.”

Like so many others, this business owner has little recourse. Even if the perpetrators are caught, it is unlikely that they will do much, if any, jail time. There simply isn’t enough funding to hold them, or enough prosecutorial staff to charge them and bring them to trial.

This business owner is all too aware of this. “Something needs to change!” he says.

Indeed it does.

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The author, K. David Smith, graduated from Harvard College cum laude in 1991. A former management consultant and healthcare policy analyst, he currently resides near Merlin, Oregon, pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Pacific University. He is also the father of three young boys and an active member of Securing Our Safety. You can contact David at kdavidsmith.writer@gmail.com

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