By Patrick Fancher
Like many a university town, downtown is truly the heart and soul of Corvallis, so when community members continually voiced their frustrations to the police about a rising trend in crime it was time to form a new plan. Many business and property owners along with concerned citizens had grown tired of witnessing threatening behavior, noise violations, open containers of alcohol being consumed in public, and human waste and littering coming from homeless transients and others.
Police department Captain Dave Henslee met with the Downtown Corvallis Association, the Corvallis Homeless Coalition, Central Park Neighborhood Association, Community Policing Forum, business owners, and more in a collaborative effort to reduce crime in the area. Henslee said it was important that their plan increase community livability and sustain economic vitality and not just be about enforcement, but also prevention and education.
“When we initially wrote this [plan] we focused on criminal behavior and getting everybody to live up to the standard we all expect downtown,” Henslee said. The CPD made the plan very public, informing the press and everyone about their intentions so people in the downtown area could comply with the expectations.
The Tactical Action Plan 9
On March 15, 2014, the Corvallis Police Department set in motion the Tactical Action Plan 9. “The Tactical Action Plan was originally designed to run for a month, and we actually ran it a little bit longer, about five and a half weeks.” Henslee said.
From March 15 to April 18, Corvallis police officers in the central district would dedicate 50 percent of their unobligated time, meaning any time there’s nothing going on, during patrols to the TAP 9.
So what was the cost of this plan?
“We generally have five or six officers on duty, so two or three of them would be assigned to the central district. Those officers would be focused on the plan,” Henslee said. So the TAP 9 didn’t involve any overtime and used officers that were already on the clock.
Prior news reports suggested that the plan was made in response to business owners’ and community members’ complaints about criminal activity coming mostly from out-of-town transients and homeless people. Was the plan created to address homeless crime downtown?
“Just crime in general. We don’t target and track a certain population. When this was over, people asked, ‘How many homeless people did you cite?’ I don’t know. We just looked at the numbers that were on the page of the Tactical Action Plan. We don’t specifically look at who people are, we just focus in on crime,” Henslee said.
On April 25, Henslee compiled the statistics in a week-by-week breakdown document titled the Tactical Action Plan 9/Downtown Livability Statistics. It highlighted the total number of directed patrols, which are patrols where officers go to an area for a reason. Another was “educational contacts,” which were categorized as times when officers weren’t just enforcing the law but talking with people, saying, “We have a tactical plan in place. You can’t smoke in the park. You can’t have an open container. You can’t urinate in the bushes.”
Enforcement contacts were instances when the police would specifically give someone a citation or arrest them. The number of available bike patrol hours were logged, as well as the number of business contacts the officers made each week. This involved checking in with downtown business owners to see how things were going, and what they could improve on.
Decreases in criminal activity were seen across the board. There were a total of 200 directed patrols over the five weeks. They had 41 in the first week, which decreased to 18 by the final week. Educational contacts were made to the tune of 46 early and went down to zero by the end. There were 50 enforcement contacts during the campaign, with actual citations and arrests being made, beginning at 17 in week one. Those instances dwindled to just two in the final week. The amount of bike patrol hours and business contacted showed similar decreases over the period – the need for these had decreased.
“By week five we noticed the contacts we were having with people who violated the law had plummeted, dropped off dramatically,” Henslee said. He said officers weren’t finding violations and didn’t have to go out on directed patrols as much anymore. They would drive by Central Park and there was nothing go on. People were complying with the law.
Del Alma co-owner Kinn Edwards, who had seen homeless people and transients drink alcohol in front of the restaurant, urinate on the building, and pass out in the lawn during business hours, seemed grateful for the added police presence near the waterfront location. Did these instances decrease during the plan?
“It’s practically non-existent right now. They don’t sit out and drink in front of the restaurant anymore,” Edwards said. He hopes the CPD remains vigilant in enforcing the city ordinances or the same criminal behavior could easily filter back down to the riverfront.
Courtney Cloyd, president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association, and other residents had witnessed harassing behavior, people with open alcohol containers, smoking marijuana, and some occasions of minor theft in and around Central Park this year. He seemed pleased with the additional police presence near the park.
“I think it was effective,” Cloyd said. “But I do want to emphasize that the Tactical Action Plan was effective while it was enforced, particularly with bicycle patrolling and walking patrols.” Someone recently pointed out to Cloyd that a neighbor’s bicycle was stolen after the plan was suspended, so he hopes to see some version of the plan continued periodically, long term.
Henslee says he will have a follow-up meeting with the Downtown Corvallis Association, the Central Park Neighborhood Association, Corvallis Homeless Coalition, and other stakeholders on Thursday, May 15 at the Corvallis Police Department to see how things have been going the last few weeks since the officers haven’t been spending as much unobligated time in the downtown area. This meeting will not be open for all to attend.