Police Crackdown on Central Park

By Bethany Carlson

Comp_65230573A Tactical Action Plan released by the Corvallis Police Department will address livability issues and criminal behavior in Corvallis’ Central Park. Issues cited in the plan as reasons for the crackdown include human waste, drug paraphernalia such as hypodermic needles, criminal mischief, unleashed dogs, smoking, and concerns cited by the nearby First Presbyterian Church for children enrolled in their daycare.

Lt. Cord Wood, asked about similarities to last year’s TAP-9 downtown enforcement, said that last year the problems were spread across a broader area, while “so far issues seem localized to the park” this year.  Asked if he perceives the cold-weather homeless shelter as being related to the last two years’ issues, Wood replied, “I don’t know that we can make a direct correlation between the homeless shelter and the behavior we’re seeing now.” He added that problems like this do tend to be cyclical.

Between Oct. 1 and Jan. 1, CPD responded to 86 calls for service in the Central Park area. Empty alcohol bottles, hypodermic needles, bedding, and trash are found on a regular basis by Corvallis Parks and Recreation, according to the action plan. Of particular concern is the presence of drug paraphernalia near the playground on the south edge of the park.

The plan is slated to run from Feb. 1 through May 1, but enforcement may be extended or shortened in response to its success. Police presence will be increased in the Central Park area, and will include bicycle patrol officers, foot patrols, and possibly plain clothes officers. TAP-5 aims to educate first-time offenders about state and city laws, use progressive levels of enforcement, and document the number of TAP-5-related contacts made. Additionally, police will provide Corvallis Housing First (formerly the Corvallis Homeless Shelter Coalition) with the action plan, and encourage CHF to educate their clients about the plan.

Community Groups Are Supportive, Cite Concern About Heroin Use
Several local groups gave input and will partner with CPD to support the plan. CPD held meetings last month with the Downtown Corvallis Association, the Central Park Neighborhood Association, First Presbyterian and First Christian churches, the Corvallis Public Library, and Corvallis Housing First, and  these organizations are listed in the plan as community partners. The plan states that CPD will send weekly updates with TAP statistics to the DCA, Corvallis Housing First, the Central Park Neighborhood Association, and will meet with community groups every 30 days to review the effectiveness of the plan.  The DCA’s executive director, Joan Wessell, declined to comment about their involvement with the plan.

Meanwhile, Gina Vee, CHF’s executive director, emphasizes the organization’s support for TAP-5. Vee said, “The issue that they’re trying to address is the increase in youth and youth criminal action, and the availability of drugs in the park for young people. The one [drug] that comes to mind is morphine and heroin—basically heroin.” Vee added that drug use and dealing involves people who may not be homeless themselves, but who may be involved with homeless people, and are recruiting young people to drug use.

Last year’s TAP-9 brought claims from some homeless people that they were targeted by police not for criminal behavior, but merely for being in the park. Lt. Wood responded, “They shouldn’t [feel targeted]. If they’re not engaging in criminal behavior, they shouldn’t have issues. That’s what we’re trying to address.” He added that people might also expect to be contacted by police if they are with other people who are engaging in criminal activity.

Vee said CHF will discuss TAP-5 with their clients at the cold-weather shelter. “We always try to encourage the homeless to follow the laws, and to try to find something productive to do during the day, and not involve themselves in these activities,” she said. She expressed concern over local heroin use, and perceives heroin as particularly attractive for two groups of people: “If somebody’s addicted already, or young people who are wanting to experiment and this is readily available.” Vee concluded, “We’re getting hit from both sides—you’ve got demand, and you’ve got the availability.”