As I stumbled and stammered, trying to find the most appropriate word to describe Bend's alarming spike in weapons offenses, Lt. Chris Carney stepped in.
"You can call that disturbing," Carney said flatly.
A Bend Police Department accountability review released in June revealed that weapons offenses in Bend were up a staggering 115 percent over the same time last year. Police report 71 offenses so far in 2013, as compared with 33 during the same period in 2012. That's a big jump that no one seems to have an answer for.
"We haven't sat down and discussed why that is," Carney said. "But it's not uncommon to have three to five [weapons offenses] in month," he added. Weapons offenses are loosely defined as the unpermitted possession or use of a deadly or dangerous weapon.
Also up over last year's tallies were assault (33 percent), arson (23 percent) and drug offenses (6 percent). It's unclear how often weapons were involved in each instance, but the uptick does seem to coincide with national crime statistics.
In June the FBI released 2012 data showing a nationwide rise in violent crime—the first such increase in six years. After years of decline, the report shows violent crime increased by 3.3 percent in the Western states—a bigger jump than any other region in the country. Overall, the nation experienced a 1.2 percent increase, which was mostly centered around cities of 500,000 to 1 million people.
While Bend is no L.A. or Seattle, Carney points out that like the bigger cities, Bend's crime rates have increased as the economy has slowly started to recover—a fact that runs contrary to what one may think. (Conversely and interestingly, gun-related crimes in some of the most economically blighted areas in L.A. have measurably declined in the past three years; Watts, for example, has only had one shooting in the past two years.)
"In the recession we saw a huge drop," Carney said of Bend's crime rates. "As recovery comes, violent crimes have gone up."
Although Carney was unsure why the economic recovery has coincided with a jump in violent crimes, he did offer explanations for the increase in reportable offenses.
"We've done a lot of things to free up our resources," Carney said.
Services like online reporting, coupled with changes in incident responses—such as not responding to parking lot accidents—have allowed officers to move more quickly to the next call, or to higher-priority calls. Said more plainly, Bend cops are finding more criminals because they're less tied up with minor incidents.
"Freeing officers up from a hit-and-run allows officers to look a little further," Carney added.
As for the dramatic jump in weapons offenses, Carney's officers are reporting more stolen weapons than they've seen in previous years. They're also finding felons in possession of a weapon, which is illegal, as well as drug dealers and other criminals who have unpermitted weapons. Other weapons offenses include carrying a concealed weapons without a permit. But such cases are rarely benign.
"We're not running into soccer moms with a gun under her seat—it's the felons and drug dealers," Carney said.
Carney highlighted a recent instance in which a suspect was brought in for allegedly shooting at a passing train. Discharging a weapon within the city limits is illegal and would count as a weapons offense.
Also, the prolific gun ownership in Deschutes County adds to these high numbers of incidents. As of 2012 there were more than 8,500 permit holders in Deschutes County, according to the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. Statewide, more than 154,000 Oregonians have concealed carry permits, or about one in every 20 people—and gun ownership in Deschutes County is slightly higher than the state average (while only 4.1 percent of the population lives in Deschutes County, the county accounts for 5.5 percent of gun ownership). In light of recent events, hese numbers are highlighted because Oregon, like Florida, has a "stand your ground" law that allows threatened homeowners to use deadly force.
Such shoot-first-ask-questions-later laws can have tragic consequences, as was seen in the recent Trayvon Martin case in Florida. Martin, an African-American teenager, was returning home with candy he had just bought at the corner store, when Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic, began following. Zimmerman contends that Martin attacked him and, using his right to defend himself with lethal force, Zimmerman shot and killed the 17-year-old boy. Martin was unarmed. Earlier this month, a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.
Fortunately, homicide cases in Bend are few—there's been only one so far in 2013. And other offenses were notably down since 2012. Motor vehicle theft, for instance, has decreased by 42 percent.