Community works to improve reputation
CHILOQUIN — Rocks thrown through windows. Graffiti. Drunken fights in the streets.
After midnight, Chiloquin residents worry about leaving their homes. The early morning hours are peak crime hours in the small town north of Klamath Falls when authorities say drunken people roam the streets in groups.
It’s not a new worry, but some residents say they are fed up with the ongoing crime problem that has given the town a bad name.
Many say only a few perpetrators are responsible for most of the fights and vandalism, and that during daylight hours, the town is a friendly, safe place to be. But the worry lingers.
“The concerning time is at night when the people who are bad tend to be bad,” says Brett Fisher, executive director of the Chiloquin group, Visions in Progress. “I wouldn’t be in Chiloquin past midnight — it just doesn’t feel safe.”
The number of 911 calls from the Chiloquin area spiked from 404 in February and March to 514 in June and July. Authorities attribute the hike to no school and warmer temperatures, which draw people, mainly teens, outdoors. But, they say, those reasons increase crime in any community.
The crime load in Chiloquin is comparable to what it was last summer, says Sheriff Tim Evinger. Still, the town of about 720 people has the highest call volume per capita in the county, he says.
And it’s the only town in the county that doesn’t have enhanced law enforcement — Merrill and Malin both have police departments and Bonanza contracts with the sheriff’s office for a resident deputy.
In the past five years, Chiloquin residents twice voted against ballot measures that would have raised taxes to pay for a police department. Yet, many say they don’t know why.
“Pretty much everyone in Chiloquin is concerned for their safety,” says Pete Pate, pastor of Rivers of Life Christian Ministry in Chiloquin.
“It’s been a concern for me ever since I became mayor,” says Chiloquin Mayor Mark Cobb, who’s held the position the past 2-1/2 years.
The sheriff sets aside deputies to patrol rural areas of the county. In the rural areas, he uses 60 hours a week for patrols. In other cases, deputies prioritize calls, so that they respond to the most urgent call first.
But, he says, it’s tough to give Chiloquin the attention it needs when the department has lost eight positions and is facing other budget restraints.
“The bottom line is that our staffing has reached a critically low level,” Evinger says.
Many residents hope Chiloquin can shed its roughtown stereotype. That’s why many are seeking funding sources for more community programs and patrols.
Cobb says city leaders are applying for grants to fund a full-time patrol deputy, a youth center and a teen peer court.
While more police patrols are important, he says more activities and opportunities for teens could curb the boredom and apathy that lead to criminal activity.
“The causes of the crime need to be addressed, not just the crime itself,” he says. “It has to be a multifaceted approach. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken.”
Pate believes Chiloquin teens need more options and more constructive adult leadership. His idea is to develop a youth community pastor position, which would work as a liaison between churches and organize events for teens.
Chiloquin City Councilman Jeff Mitchell doesn’t think there is poor adult mentoring in Chiloquin. “To me, it’s really a reflection of the economic plight,” he says of the crime issues.
Others say criminal cases aren’t prosecuted harshly enough. They believe repeat offenders in Chiloquin are released from jail or prison too quickly, according to a survey conducted by Pate of roughly 100 residents in town.
District Attorney Ed Caleb says his office prosecutes Chiloquin cases no differently than cases from other areas of the county.
Efforts getting better
Residents acknowledged efforts of the financially strapped sheriff, whose deputies patrol a county with at least 50,000 residents.
Cobb says he’s seen more follow-ups and more of an effort to curb crime, citing an advisory committee set up by Sheriff Evinger to find solutions to public safety issues.
And “they have been doing more arrests in the past two years,” he says.
April Haynes, who lives 15 miles from town, but works in Chiloquin, agrees.
“They just kind of check up on things more than they used to,” she says.
Still, there’s more to do, the sheriff says. For safety of his deputies, Evinger plans to have two deputies patrol in one car because, for example, many times deputies respond to an assault with multiple people on scene. Another deputy would help control the situation.
And Evinger says two deputies will patrol Chiloquin during the peak crime times of 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
“It’s my goal to get to the point where residents of Chiloquin are not afraid to walk the street,” Evinger says. “Because right now they are.”