By editorial board • 

Homeless problem won’t be solved by hyperbole

Chris Chenoweth’s campaign for the McMinnville City Council features a flier claiming a rise in crime is tied to a similar increase in vagrancy, because of a “laissez-faire” approach to law enforcement.

City crime statistics tell a different story.

Annual reports created by Mac PD and posted to its website, readily available to anyone with a computer, show crime rates have been relatively flat the past few years. There haven’t been any dramatic decreases, but neither have there been any dramatic increases — especially in the sorts of crimes usually associated with vagrancy and homelessness.

From 2008 to 2017, disorderly conduct crimes have remained virtually unchanged, 155 to 152, with a slight increase from 2013 (176) to 2015 (187). In the last decade, curfew and runaway juvenile cases dropped from 152 to 85. Drug and alcohol offenses have decreased nearly 50 percent in that time period, from 475 to 242.

Larceny, fraud, vandalism and other “crimes against property” have steadily decreased since a peak of 2,334 in 2011 — 2,334. The total in that category last year was 1,701.

Crimes against persons — including robbery, assaults and sex offenses — have increased in the last 10 years, although decreased in the last two years. Total person crimes rose quickly in the beginning of the 2010s, jumping from 272 in 2010 to 521 a year in 2011. In 2017, there were 406 such crimes. 

As crime waves go, that’s hardly worth the electricity to turn on the Bat-Signal.

The city council has taken numerous actions to address problem behaviors this year. Newly passed rules include: a code of conduct and means of prosecution for lawbreakers occupying the parking structure; a ban on smoking downtown; a ban on RV parking on public streets; a ban on overnight camping on public property — a move stymied, at least temporarily, by the Sept. 4 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit of Appeals.

Still, police simply can’t arrest homeless people for being homeless.

Chenoweth notes Portland has been branded a “cesspool,” and frets about McMinnville facing a similar fate. Although he doesn’t cite a source, he is presumably referring to remarks by Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association.

Turner was bristling at Mayor Ted Wheeler’s suggestion that Portland police might be profiling homeless people, based on the fact the homeless account for 52 percent of arrests but less than 3 percent of the population.

That is another political brawl in another city. It has absolutely no connection with McMinnville.

Comparing Portland to McMinnville is like comparing apples to peas. McMinnville is a city of 35,000, Portland a city of 640,000. And by rough count, there are only 1,386 homeless people among Yamhill County’s population of 102,659.

Yes, McMinnville has a homeless problem. But it’s not unique — homelessness and lack of affordable housing are at crisis levels throughout the West Coast.

Chenoweth is certainly not the first person running for office to use the “crime-riddled community” pitch while campaigning. However, crime and homeless issues will never be solved through platitudes, hyperbole and unsubstantiated assertions.

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