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Panel wants public safety fix.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

A group of high-profile residents announced Wednesday that they will spend the next four months trying to find what has eluded Lane County government and law enforcement advocates for more than a decade: A fix for the public safety system.

Retired Eugene real estate broker Jean Tate and Dave Frohnmayer, former president of the University of Oregon, are co-chairing a committee that will study the county public safety system and make recommendations in February. There is a better than 50-50 chance that the solutions will include going to voters with a tax proposal, Tate said.

Public safety officials inside and outside county government say the county public safety system is failing, evidenced in part by the early release of thousands of offenders annually from the Lane County Jail because of staff shortages.

At a press conference in downtown Eugene, the new committee - called CAPS, for Citizen Advocates for Public Safety - cited statistics from the state Criminal Justice Commission that showed violent crime and property crime have surged in Eugene while dropping regionally and nationally.

From 2007 to 2008, violent crime was up 16.4 percent and property crime was up 25.8 percent in Eugene, while the rates for both dropped in Portland, Salem, the West and the United States, the commission said.

Focusing on prevention and rehabilitation as well as law enforcement and incarceration, the committee will examine public safety data and first determine whether community needs can be met by making changes that won't cost more money, Tate said.

Tate also said, however, that it's likely the study will end with recommendations that require more funding from county citizens. The committee will ask itself, "what sort of levy might Lane County citizens be willing to support?" Tate said.

Over the years, county government has asked voters that very question in tax measures for public safety, and the answer has consistently come back, "none." Most recently, 71 percent of voters defeated an income tax proposal for public safety in 2007, dealing the county its 13th straight loss on a money measure for public safety since 1996.

Following the defeat, county officials said it would be the citizens' responsibility to promote future tax proposals. And Tate and Frohnmayer said they hope their committee might be more persuasive with voters because it's not part of county government.

County officials had a hand in the group's formation, however.

Sheriff Russ Burger said after the 2007 ballot measure that he wanted to help form a broad-based community group that could identify a funding solution that voters would support. Earlier this year, Burger and Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner met with various communities on the county's public safety challenges.

From those meetings and other interactions with the public, Tate said, Burger and Gardner concluded that a citizens' group could form. They asked her to co-chair it, Tate said, and she agreed. She and Frohnmayer stressed, however, that they were free to choose its members and that county officials have no authority over the committee.

Burger and Gardner could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Tate, a 2007 Eugene First Citizen, said the committee must be completely separate from county government to build credibility and trust with the public.

"We have no political stake in anybody looking good," Frohnmayer added. "We have a political stake in living here."

COMMITTEE MEMBERS

In addition to Jean Tate and Dave Frohnmayer, committee members include:

Gretchen Pierce, president of Eugene real estate firm Hult & Associates

Darryl Larson, a retired Lane County Circuit Court Judge

John Lively, a former mayor of Springfield and currently working for Eugene-based PR firm Cawood Communication

Ed Coleman, a musician and member of the NAACP and retired English professor from the University of Oregon

Ron Chase, executive director of Sponsors, a Eugene-based service that helps offenders re-enter society

Kappy Eaton, governance coordinator for the League of Women Voters of Oregon

Tony Biglan, a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute in Eugene.
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Title Annotation:Government Local; A group of prominent Lane County citizens will study the options and propose some solutions
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 5, 2009
Words:662
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