Drug trafficking in Creswell has been a major issue in Creswell, and to some business owners and residents of the community the issue seems to be getting worse.
From the outside looking in, it appears that City of Creswell's lack of 24/7 police coverage with the Lane County Sheriff's Office and the disbanding of the Lane County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (INET), has resulted in more drug- related crime in Creswell.
INET was dissolved last fall, and during 2017 more than $115,000 in cash, $27,000 in vehicles, 14,687 grams of methamphetamine were seized and 52 arrests were made. This does not count some of the other incidents that were investigated as well. In fact, in 2017 there were several cases just outside of the Creswell area on Highway 99 near South Davisson Road.
The individuals involved in these investigations are known drug dealers who've had a long list of criminal activity in the area. Now that INET is no longer, it has put an even bigger burden on our local Sheriff's Office to try and investigate and control drug-related issues in our area.
In just the past month or so Creswell has seen a special response team shut down part of the town while looking for a known drug dealer, Randal Jernigan-Wynn; and just this past weekend a Creswell resident, Israel Salvador Mercado-Mendoza, 30, was involved in the largest meth seizure in Douglas Interagency Narcotics Team (DINT) history. He and his associate from California were transporting approximately 74 pounds of meth when their vehicle was pulled over on I-5.
There have been several other crimes that have happened in Creswell that could have also been drug-related as well, which is why some people are thinking something needs to be done. This is in no way a criticism of our local Sheriff's Office staff; I think they are doing their best with the time and resources they are provided.
Business and landowners in the 200 block of East Oregon Ave. are feeling threatened by the amount of suspicious activity they are seeing in their area. After dark, in the wee hours of the morning, this area of Creswell comes alive with a whole different type of clientele, adding to the fact that there's a seasonal transient camp near the I-5 interchange on ODOT property where drug trafficking seems to pick up even more during the summer months, which makes everyone feel a little uneasy.
Like I said, the Lane County Sheriff's Office tries to do its best to stay on top of this issue. They seem to know who is coming and going in and out of town, but there are only so many sets of eyes to follow these people. Something really needs to be done to help deter even more of these criminals from coming into the community.
As we know, Creswell is uniquely situated with rural highways to the north, south, east and west, with I-5 also running though part of the community. The rural highways flow outside the city limits and are out of the jurisdiction of the current city coverage by the Lane County Sheriff's Office. Some residents living outside the city limits have reported some sketchy activity right outside of the city boundary, which makes one wonder if the criminals are playing us.
Some of these known drug dealers or criminals live outside the Creswell city limits and then come into the city and steal or sell their products and then head back outside of town once their work is done. They know our limitations and maybe it might be time to start thinking about expanding our policing coverage to include all residents living within the Creswell School District boundaries.
Back in 2015 the City of Creswell partnered with Portland State University (PSU) for a policing study to evaluate present service levels and possible service alternatives. At the time PSU came up with several alternative policing options, including the current city policing option that includes a full-time sergeant and three deputies. Another option that was brought up was creating a policing district.
The following information on a policing district was explained in the PSU policing study:
'The option of an independent special district for public services serving the City of Creswell and the surrounding unincorporated service areas is relatively expensive. The hypothetical district would cover a service area similar to the Creswell School District. The district would require a larger staff, which would need a separate police station outside of city hall. The district would either need to rent, remodel and upgrade an existing building; or build a new facility. Police station capital construction cost would be in addition to the operating and startup costs.
”An independent special district that contracts with the Lane County Sheriff's Department has a relatively low property tax rate, mostly reflecting lower operating and startup costs. The low tax rate also reflects the enlarged property tax base that includes the assessed value in the surrounding unincorporated service area outside the city boundary. Taxpayers inside the city and in the surrounding unincorporated service area would both contribute to funding police services.
”With an independent special district with a Lane County Sheriff contract, residents and businesses in the unincorporated service area would receive improved police services including low priority calls, increased attention for minor issues, and a higher level of community outreach and policing.
”The startup costs for a special district with a Lane County Sheriff's contract would be minimal – enough to set up the administrative, financial and legal functions of the district. The Sheriff's Department would absorb many of the program startup costs. However, the Sheriff may wish to negotiate support and capital costs for some form of a standalone substation.”
I think that the time is right for Creswell to start looking into a policing service district. I feel that everyone would get the biggest bang for their buck, with the possibility of having six deputies and a sergeant patrolling and keeping an eye out for the bad guys roaming our area. If this policing service district were approved, the current public safety fee on the utility bill for Creswell residents would go away and the money to fund the district would instead be collected through property taxes.
There is much discussion that needs to take place in order for this to happen. But I think everyone, business owners and residents both inside and outside the Creswell city limits, would be the beneficiaries if we can make it happen.