Victims’ Voices of Josephine County – Story #5
By K. David Smith
This column is the fifth in a series that aims to give the human perspective behind the crisis in criminal justice funding in Josephine County, Oregon. For further information about this series, the background behind it, and the stories of other people who have been affected by the loss of public safety funding in the County, please click here.
On Monday, July 22, a home in the Hugo area was robbed in broad daylight. Picked clean. The thieves took their time about it. All they left was the furniture.
The residents were away from home at the time, which was probably fortunate. The husband works, his wife watches their grandchildren during the day. Sometime around 3pm, according to what a neighbor recalled after the fact, a motorcycle drove up to the house, followed by two white vehicles, a van and a pickup truck. Over the next few hours, the occupants of the vehicles carried out virtually everything the couple owns. Cash. Laptops. A flat-screen television, and all their other electronics. Jewelry. Personal information, including Social Security cards. A motorcycle.
The chances that this was a random hit by a few tweaked-out teenagers looking for a quick score seem fairly small. There was organization and planning involved. These people arrived well equipped and prepared to take their time, which implies they knew the couple would not be home for hours – or were prepared to deal with them if they did arrive unexpectedly. The implications of that were not lost on the couple.
The first they knew of the robbery was when the wife arrived home, around 8pm, and discovered that the garage door was open and the motorcycle was missing. She was smart: instead of walking in, as some would do, she stayed in the car and called her husband, who was on his way home as well, somewhere on Hugo Road. He confirmed that she should stay out of the house and called 911.
It’s not hard to guess what they told him. County dispatch referred him to the Oregon State Police. OSP then said they had no one to send, and that unless he encountered a life-threatening emergency, they could not help him. They simply didn’t have the staff. The Josephine County Sheriff’s Office had no one on duty, thanks to budget cuts, and likewise could provide no help. The residents were on their own.
Which left the couple outside their house, without any knowledge of who or what awaited them inside. They called a neighbor who owned a weapon, and he led them inside to clear the house.
What they found left them feeling violated, helpless. The house had been ransacked. The further they looked, the worse the implications became. The loss of belongings is bad enough, but once they discovered that their personal information and Social Security numbers had also been taken, their vulnerability became still greater. With that data, the thieves can steal their identities, access their credit cards, threaten their savings and bank accounts, incur enormous debts on their behalf. The identity theft and consumer fraud ring that was unraveled in Josephine County in 2012, involving dozens of individuals and enormous monetary damages, should make the potential for harm quite clear to anyone who has been paying attention.
This is not the first time this couple has been targeted by criminals. Four or five years ago, one of their trucks was stolen. In that case, however, the Sheriff’s Office responded quickly and pursued the thief down Hugo Road. The man ultimately abandoned the vehicle in a ditch and fled on foot. He was apprehended when he tried to approach a neighbor for “help,” and the neighbor grew suspicious and called the police. The man was a felon, and armed. Unlike what happened on Monday, however, there was law enforcement help to be had, and the perpetrator was apprehended. This time, there is no one to send because of the drastic cuts that have come about due to the loss of criminal justice funding and the failure of two public safety levies to replace it.
Thus far, there has been no follow-up on the incident by law enforcement. Just insurance companies. Even then, the couple is not sure how much help they’ll get, since there is no police report to send to their insurance carriers.
Mostly, the response has been from neighbors. Hugo is a small town, where most everyone knows everyone else. This sort of incident becomes very public. The implications for the community of a brazen robbery such as this, with multiple vehicles involved emptying a home in broad daylight, are unlikely to escape anyone in Hugo.
The couple have heard of cases where a theft such as this is followed in a few days by another, where the perpetrators come back and use the keys they’ve stolen to grab whatever they missed the first time around. So they are in the process of changing the locks. There’s little else they can do in the short term, besides live in fear and hope the thieves don’t return. They feel lucky that they weren’t home when the incident happened. Who knows what would have happened then.
In the long term, what they can do is move to a community where there’s a police presence, where some kind of timely response is likely. “We just want to clear out of here,” the husband says. “We’ll move out next year, as soon as we can sell the place. Meanwhile, we’ll rent a house in the city, where at least we’ll have some protection.”
They hope, in sharing their story, to get the word out about what is happening out there “in the sticks,” as they describe the area where their house is located. There’s a persistent belief by those who live outside the city limits of Grants Pass – “out in the County” – that the vast majority of the crime in the area is happening in Grants Pass. This fails to note, of course, that that’s where there are police to respond to 911 calls, to pursue offenders and file charges, and where there are reporters and media outlets to publicize what’s happening. Those out in the County are left to their own devices. It’s not even clear how many are bothering to call 911 anymore, since they can anticipate no response, and virtually everyone knows it. Including the criminals who are entirely willing to take advantage of that situation.
This couple hope, by getting the word out about what’s happening out in the rural areas, that they can help keep something similar from happening to others.
The author, K. David Smith, graduated from Harvard College cum laude in 1991. A former management consultant and healthcare policy analyst, he currently resides in Grants Pass – outside the city limits. He is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Pacific University while taking care of three young boys. He is also an active member of Securing Our Safety. You can contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org