Chief Wyn Lohner says FBI report 'completely inaccurate'
Although the FBI uniform crime report released last week doesn't rank Baker City as the worst in Oregon in terms of violent crimes, the 61 such crimes reported in 2014 is higher than the number reported by many Oregon cities of similar size.
La Grande, with a population of 13,150 compared to Baker City's 9,890 residents, reported just 15 violent crimes in 2014.
And Ontario to the south, with documented gang activity and a population of 11,465, reported 65 violent crimes for the year - just four more than reported in Baker City, according to the FBI report.
Those statistics aren't what one would expect from Baker City, which just last September was named the "safest city in Oregon to live" by Safe Choice Security.
Police Chief Wyn Lohner doesn't just call the numbers reported in the FBI's uniform crime report misleading - he goes as far as to say the numbers are "completely inaccurate."
"They are stats and stats are so hard to judge," Lohner said. "Everybody records stats differently. You can never compare UCRs between cities."
Lohner said that's why his focus is on the detailed statistics kept by the Baker City Police Department rather than the FBI's numbers. The FBI statistics are compiled after the Baker City numbers are sent to the county dispatch center and then to the state.
For example, Lohner points to the Baker City Police Department's "summary of incidents served" in its 2014 annual report. The report shows the police were dispatched to just 11 reports of aggravated assault, which includes crimes of first- and second-degree assault. (The city only took reports on seven of those calls, Lohner said.)
The FBI report, on the other hand, shows 56 reports of aggravated assault for Baker City in 2014.
The 61 violent crimes include murders or non-negligent manslaughter reported during 2014 (0); rapes (1); robberies, (4); and aggravated assaults (56).
While the numbers for the other violent crimes are fairly consistent with the Baker City Police's reporting system, the total goes totally out of whack when the 56 aggravated assaults are counted instead of the 11 reported by the department, Lohner says.
"UCR reports consistently have proven to be inaccurate, which is why I have no use for them," he stated in an email to the Herald in response to questions for this story.
Crime rates are cyclical, Lohner said, noting, for example, the high number of drug arrests by city police this year.
"We got our foot in the door and we are not going to take it out," he said. "In the last year we have taken more drugs off the street than have come off in the last 10 years."
Lohner attributed the successful campaign against drug trafficking to "good police work mixed with lucky opportunities."
Police were able to use confidential informants to infiltrate the community's drug culture and make arrests.
"There's not a drug distributor in our community who is safe any more," Lohner said.
In considering the discrepancies in the crime statistics, Lohner said he will ask Jason Yencopal, director of the 9-1-1 dispatch center, to look into the matter. The city contracts with the county for records management.
Baker County Commission Chair Bill Harvey said the county is seeking a full-time dispatch director to replace Yencopal, who was appointed half-time director in May when Sheila Thompson resigned from the position.
Yencopal also is the county's emergency management director.
"We're in the process of looking at other avenues," Harvey said, adding that the dispatch center is struggling to maintain a full staff because of illness and other issues.
See more in Wednesday's issue of the Baker City Herald.