"If it bleeds, it leads" is a popular saying in the news industry. High profile criminal cases of a violent nature often flood radio, computers, television screens, and the pages of newspapers around the globe. Currently Bend is going through its own collection of random acts of violence. These sporadic and newsworthy incidents give the impression that crime is on the rise in our humble town with its relatively crime-free status. District Attorney John Hummel, along with members of the Bend City Police, are making a case that the crimes, while violent and newsworthy, are still an aberration.
Recently there have been at least three notable cases of violent crimes that have raised alarm within Central Oregon. One of them was a shooting that occurred at the end of April on Newport Avenue, where two separate groups of friends had a drunken altercation that ended with an AK-47 assault rifle being fired in the neighborhood. The two arrested were Walker Henneke, 23, and Philip True, 27. Blake Blevins, 32 and Erik Menezes, 31, were taken to St. Charles in Bend for gunshot wounds from the incident. About a month later, a shooting at the Rodeway Inn & Suites on SE Third brought yet more evidence of violence in the community. At least four individuals were in the motel room where the incident occurred. One man was shot and two arrested. Steven Premo, 35, and Justin Perkins, 29, have been arraigned and face charges on multiple counts of crimes including possession of heroin, unlawful use of a weapon and varying degrees of robbery. Both are scheduled for their next court appointment on the 23rd of this month. Arguably the most notable violent crime was the recent shooting at the High Desert Museum. A man, Nicholas Berger, 36, grabbed an employee and held her at knifepoint. Berger was shot and killed by a state trooper who had been called to the scene.
According to the 2009-2015 Total Crime Statistics that were put together by the District Attorney's office, the most common crimes committed in Bend are DUIIs totaling 6,722 incidents and theft totaling 5,704. Drug charges followed in third with 4,261 reported cases during that time and assault reports showing 767.
Sgt. Brian Beekman addresses the high-profile crime cases in Bend, but states these are a rarity and acknowledges that what he experiences most is theft, "Bend has property theft issues. Car break-ins, bikes being stolen, these are all things I get called on all too often," says Beekman. Lt. Clint Burleigh agrees that theft is the most common crime he sees day to day. "I know that when I come into work that I am going to get called out to a few car break-ins or thefts. I just know that. The good thing about Central Oregon is that we don't have too many person-to-person crimes," says Burleigh.
Bendites' belief in its small town status is one that locals and the newly transplanted hold dear, but it can lead to a false sense of security that criminals use to their advantage. "A lot of people have that small-town mentality, leaving their doors unlocked or valuables within sight," says Beekman.
Officer Kevin Uballez, also with the Bend Police Department, talks about prevention. "The easiest thing you can do to avoid getting your belongings stolen is simply locking things away," says Uballez. He agrees that theft is an issue in Bend, and says that perhaps the cases on Newport, at the motel and at the museum were all raising concern because of the degree of violence as well as the close time frame in which they all occurred. "We, thankfully, live in a pretty safe community. The crimes that we are seeing are things like thefts and DUIIs," says Uballez. Many crimes Uballez sees involve alcohol. "We live in a town with multiple breweries and alcohol is so widely accepted and available it is really becoming a problem keeping people off the road," says Uballez as he mentions the cost of a cab versus the cost of court, tickets, suspensions, and all other financial liabilities associated with getting a DUII.
Hummel's approach to prevent a rise in violent crime relies on his newly created community advisory board called DeschutesSafe. It is a group of professionals, students and residents that gather together once a month to discuss how crime can be prevented and safety ensured. Naomi Mozelle, a community activist and mortgage loan officer, is one of the 16-plus members who serve on the board. "What we discuss is approached solely by data, it is not emotionally charged," says Mozelle as she speaks to the importance of keeping the community involved in crime prevention. The group right now is focusing primarily on recidivism, which is the act of reoffending. Andrew Doyle, a public defender attorney also serving on the board, echoes Mozelle's sentiment. "The data is important. It raises the question, 'Do we really know what we think we know?'" says Doyle.
"I don't think violent crimes are increasing. We've seen some high profile cases, so they are more in the public eye, but we've always had a low level of violent crimes. Low, but not no," says Hummel. The population of Bend is growing. Currently the Census Bureau has Bend's population estimated at 87,014, a number surmised from the 2014 report of 84,084. Change is coming to Bend. "People are moving to Bend, for good or bad, and it's our job to keep on top of these changes," says Uballez, by encouraging folks to take action by reporting crimes as well as by aiding in preventing them.