Police doing early morning sweeps in Grants Pass
By SHAUN HALL
Of the Grants Pass Daily Courier
GRANTS PASS — Grants Pass police are conducting early morning downtown “vagrant sweeps” and have begun daytime foot patrols in the central business district.
Ongoing now for several weeks, the increased pressure is designed to combat a noticeable increase in problems with street people downtown that corresponded with severe Josephine County budget cuts in 2012.
Those cuts, following the first of two failed public safety levies, reduced capacity at the 262-bed county jail to fewer than 100 beds. In response, the City Council has since temporarily rented up to 30 beds at a cost of $1 million.
Interim Public Safety Director Bill Landis said the sweeps are in keeping with the City Council's goals of attracting more business to the downtown while helping the ones already there to thrive.
“It is clear that the downtown is an integral part of our city, and therefore it is time to adjust our patrol strategies to have more of a presence,” he said.
The early-morning sweeps are conducted as time allows, but the aim is to look for such things as people sleeping in doorways and drinking in public.
“We're coming across people who are either camping or caught with open containers,” said Jim Hamilton, the department's interim deputy chief.
One recent pre-dawn sweep resulted in four citations handed out: three for sleeping in public areas and one for having an open container of liquor.
One intoxicated woman was found sleeping on a sidewalk about 5 a.m.; another woman was found about 15 minutes later on a sidewalk at Town Center Plaza. Fifteen minutes after that a man was found on a mattress in an alley.
About 8 a.m., one of the women who earlier had been cited for public consumption and sleeping on a sidewalk was warned by police to stay away from the downtown Safeway, after she tried to buy beer but was denied due to intoxication.
About an hour later, after police again came across her during a check near Sixth and G streets, an ambulance finally was summoned and she was taken to the hospital.
“She couldn't take care of herself,” said Officer Brian Coney, who had been on foot patrol.
Jack Ingvaldson, operator of a nearby liquor store, talked with officers after the woman was carted off. He said he had found her earlier in his front doorway.
“I gave her some money to go get some food, to get her out of here,” he said.
Problems have decreased since the police presence, Ingvaldson said.
“You guys have been very responsive,” he told Cpl. Mike Schmidt. “It's improved.”
Ingvaldson noted that he and a neighboring business had erected gates at alleyway doorway alcoves at their businesses, in an effort to keep out the unwanted.
“We've all done this,” he said, sweeping his hand toward his neighbor's new fencing.
The daytime foot patrols are a variation of the early morning sweeps, and on some days might include officers on bicycles or T-3s — electric scooters similar to standup Segways.
Officer Andrew Aguinaga began his foot patrol Thursday morning about 10 a.m., and in about “five minutes,” he said, made his first arrest, near G and Eighth streets, where he found a woman he knew was wanted by her probation officer.
Sgt. Josh Nieminen showed up in a patrol car to take her away. Aguinaga then continued on his rounds, saying he expected to be out on foot for about two hours, but expected to be back after that to walk the beat some more.
The increased police presence coincides with the creation of a new downtown beat. Previously, the downtown area was split between two patrol beats. The assignment of officers to specific beats allows them to focus their attention and allows for statistics to be created, based on police activity in the beat area.
“We can show the activity that's going on down there,” Hamilton said. “What are the crimes we're seeing? We'll start developing trends. It'll take us a while to get that data built up.”
Information from: Daily Courier, http://www.thedailycourier.com