The Salem Police Department reported an increase in murders and weapon offenses from last year as the agency prioritized responding to a recent uptick in shootings.

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26, the department reported six murders this year compared to two in 2020, according to Oregon State Police’s statewide crime data.

Reports of weapon law violations rose by about 80% this year during that same period from 162 to 291. Lt. Treven Upkes said the spike in those reports coincides with Salem police’s response to a rise in shootings at the beginning of 2021.

“With our Strategic Investigations Unit, we have definitely turned towards combating weapons offenses and searching out people who are using firearms,” Upkes said. “That's why when we have a concerted effort in that area, we'll see an uptick in finding people with guns and taking them from them.”

Meanwhile, drug and narcotics offenses reported by Salem police fell from 581 to 164. That’s about a 72% drop from 2020.

The decline came after Oregonians passed Measure 110 last fall, decriminalizing possession of small quantities of heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs. The law was intended to treat addiction as a health matter instead of a criminal concern and invest in grants to expand treatment and referral centers.

Upkes also said Salem police’s shift toward addressing serious crimes against people, like shootings and assaults, has meant less of a focus on drug offenses involving small quantities. The department continues to investigate people who have drugs in quantities considered “delivery amounts,” Upkes said.

As a result of Measure 110, having small amounts of drugs now falls under a low-level civil violation. Those cited with possession can be fined $100 or have the fine waived if they undergo a health screening.

“So, it makes it very difficult for us to dedicate resources to those when we have traffic fatalities, when we have shootings going on, we still have delivery amounts going out there,” he said. “It's a managing of our limited resources for what we can most safely affect in the community.”

Salem police’s reports of simple assault dropped by about 5% this year, while aggravated assault grew by 10%. Local organizations that support victims of domestic violence saw a rise in requests for shelter during the pandemic.

Most forms of property crimes declined from last year, with the total falling about 19% from 10,459 to 8,492.

In cases involving drugs, those with amphetamines and methamphetamines declined by about 75% from 721 in 2020 to 180 in 2021. Offenses involving heroin fell from 153 to 40.

Oregon law requires all law enforcement agencies to report crime statistics through the Oregon Uniform Crime Reporting program, grouping offenses and arrests as crimes against people, property crimes or “crimes against society,” which include offenses related to personal conduct and public order like driving under the influence and disorderly conduct, according to the uniform crime reporting methodology.

But the Marion County Sheriff’s Office has continued to share crime data with the state through an older system called Summary Reporting Standards, which is no longer reflected in the numbers the state publishes. That leaves an incomplete picture of crime countywide for 2021.

Meloni Morrison, Interim Uniform Crime Reporting program coordinator for Oregon State Police, said the sheriff’s office missed the Jan. 1 deadline to start reporting with an updated system and told the state it would do so in October.

She said the sheriff’s office had to first find a vendor for their new reporting system and set it up. 

“All of that takes months,” she said. “It should’ve been started years ago. They are just really late to the game.”

Sgt. Jeremy Landers, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said changing its reporting method was “just one component of a much larger project.”

Compared to police agencies, he said sheriff’s offices have a wider array of records to manage in addition to police reports.  “When we began the process of upgrading our system, we made the decision to find a vendor that could incorporate these needs into one system, versus multiple systems that have to interact with one another,” he said, adding that the jail management system portion of the project alone required the ability to import around 32 years of data.

Landers said the sheriff’s office started reviewing proposals and negotiating contracts for the project in July 2018 and signed a contract with a vendor in July 2020. The new jail management system went live in June 2021, and the new crime reporting system went live earlier this month. 

“We have not yet completed our first full month of data collection using the new system,“ he said.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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