Problematic Behavior or Activity
For a number of years, community members in the town of Falls City have expressed concern for the criminal activity – littering (including dirty needles), drug use, and alcohol use – plaguing lower Falls City Park. Many of the reported incidents shared similar circumstances – nighttime, minimal lighting, and obstructed views of the park.
Impact on the Community
This activity raised concern among many residences regarding the safety of the park and increased reluctance to use the park from recreation. Additionally, the poor visibility in the park posed an officer safety risk during nighttime responses.
This program was comprised of two main components; the first component was to involve community partners. The Sheriff’s Office worked with residents nearby to form a program, much like that Neighborhood Park Watch program in Lebanon as well as with the Falls City public works in order to have signage installed outlining hours and allowable activities.
The second component was to integrate police technology. Two handheld FLIR devices were purchased to assist with formal surveillance during nighttime responses. These FLIR devices were also used to enhance other police response, including Search and Rescue operations.
Based on Research
A micro-grant in the amount of $7200 was issued for the purchase of the two FLIR devices. Falls City Public Works supplied and installed the signs.
The use of this equipment has increased our efficiency tremendously. Deputies are able to use the FLIR devices when looking for suspects, to both increase their speed and their safety in night time hours. Deputies were also able to use the FLIR devices recently in a search and rescue operation on a reported person that fell into the Yamhill River in Yamhill County in support of the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office.
For the 6 month life of the reporting program the FLIR units were used a total of 18 times. This was broken exactly even between the first three months of reporting compared to the last three months of reporting.
For the last three months of reporting of the nine uses seven were for criminal incidents. The most common incidents that the FLIR units were used on were foot pursuits either after a vehicle elude or after a hit and run. Unfortunately of these seven incidents no subjects were taken into custody.
Two incidents were documented where the FLIR units were used to assist in Search and Rescue Operations.
As stated above the biggest benefit afforded to the sheriff’s office is the use of updated technology to be used in the apprehension of criminals in Polk County. Deputies have appreciated the availability of this technology.
Goals of this program included reducing criminal activity in the Falls City Parks and increasing community livability. To accomplish this, in addition to the technological investments, community involvement was included in the program.
Three of the five houses that border the park have been contacted about being involved in a sort of “Park Watch” program. The idea that these residents would be stewards for their community by calling in when subjects were in the park in violation of any ordinance (such as after hours) or any criminal activity.
There were some concerns by some of the residents about being involved, so it was explained that they could report any incidents and request to be anonymous. The goal is for the report to be made and for a sheriff’s office response. The impact of this strategy has yet to be determined.
Critical Success Factors
Involvement of the community will be instrumental in the success of the program. Standard directed (or random) patrol will likely catch only a small percentage of offenders. Investment of the residents that live next to the park, and who are most affected by criminal activity in the park will be instrumental as the program moves forward.
Investment by staff in reporting will be important in tracking the uses of the FLIR equipment. Without the hard data it is difficult to document potential successes or failures.
Another lesson learned was some trepidation from members of the public about being named complainants. It had to be explained to them that they could report any criminal activity anonymously and that reporting anonymously would not affect the success/failure of most investigations.