Visitors to the community as well as people who live in Baker City should be on the alert to keep their personal belongings safe and secure, Police Chief Ray Duman advises.

The Police Department has issued a public service announcement on its Facebook page directing those who have friends and family members visiting in the waning days of summer to take their bicycles and other valuables inside rather than leaving them tethered to their vehicles.

Duman said police officers will be soliciting the help of the motel owners in town as well, asking them to caution their guests not to leave their bicycles outside, even if they are locked.

“A good pair of bolt cutters can go through a lot of stuff,” Duman said.

Thefts have been rampant in the community recently, Duman said.

“After 10 o’clock this city turns over,” he said. “We have a lot of people who have methamphetamine problems in this community and these guys, that’s what they do to get their money for their drugs — they’ll take anything they can.”

Police routinely recover a large number of bikes that have been stolen and later ditched. But without a bicycle license, which can be obtained free at the Baker City Police Department at 1768 Auburn Ave., there’s no way to know who the recovered bicycles belong to, Duman said.

In some cases, parts have been swapped out to disguise the bicycles, and others have been spray-painted.

Duman says the point is that the police cannot be everywhere, and people need to look out for themselves to some degree.

“Lock your cars and don’t leave valuables in your cars,” he said. “A locked car doesn’t do well against a hammer on a window.”

Leaving change in a vehicle’s cup holder also is a draw for some thieves.

“Smash, grab and down the road you go,” Duman said. “It’s about opportunity and it just takes seconds for it to occur.”

The police chief said it’s unclear whether the crimes are being committed by just a couple of people or a larger number.

More capacity at the jail

The opening of more spaces at the Baker County Jail is aimed at helping curtail the activity of some of the county’s more active repeat offenders, Sheriff Travis Ash said Thursday.

Under the former policy, which started in late March, people charged with minor crimes had been cited and released to reduce crowding at the jail during the coronavirus pandemic.

That changed this week.

For example, at 9:42 a.m. Tuesday, Edward Allen Braswell, 45, who police describe as a transient, was cited and released on three Baker County Justice Court warrants charging him with contempt of court. According to court records, Braswell was cited to appear on charges of second-degree criminal trespassing charges on March 10, June 30 and Aug. 10. The warrant charging him with contempt was issued on Aug. 21 after he failed to appear on all three charges.

Just one day after Braswell received the latest citation, he was charged with second-degree burglary, a Class C felony, and second-degree theft, a Class A misdemeanor. Baker City Police arrested him at 4:33 p.m. Wednesday at East and Madison streets and this time he was held at the jail.

Braswell is accused of entering the Family Life Center at the Nazarene Church, which is being used as a child care center for the children of county employees during online school sessions.

Duman said Braswell took an Apple iPad and a Google Chromebook, each valued at $350, belonging to the Baker School District.

Braswell also is being held on charges of second-degree criminal trespassing, felon in possession of a firearm and possession of methamphetamine in an unrelated case.

The jail, which opened in 1991, has room for 45 prisoners, but occupancy was cut by more than half in March because of the pandemic.

At that time, Ash said he planned to keep the staff as well as the inmates safe and healthy by ensuring adequate physical distancing.

Prior to those changes, it was not unusual for the county to hold suspects on misdemeanor charges. Since the change was implemented, only those who were required by law to be taken into custody were held.

Mandatory arrests include domestic violence crimes, stalking, violating restraining orders and failure to appear and no-bail warrants. Those accused of more serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery, also are held.

The population of the jail had been running at 12 to 14 inmates daily. On Friday there were 20 people in custody, which Ash said probably will be the new peak number since he opened up more space this week.

One inmate, Christopher Griffith, left the jail this week after being sentenced to 20 months in prison for aggravated first-degree theft of merchandise valued at $15,656 from the High Mountain Smoke Shop at 1435 Campbell St. in July. He will serve a consecutive 20-month prison term for violating his probation agreement on a 2018 conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Griffith had been in the jail since Aug. 5.

There will be some restructuring of how the inmates are housed, based on the longevity of other people who have been held, some for more than eight months, Ash said. They have been in the jail where the staff is healthy, wear masks and maintain physical distancing and, therefore, have no need for health concerns.

Bill Gonyer, for example, has been at the jail since Jan. 8 on 14 child sexual abuse charges; Shawn Greenwood has been held since Jan. 13 on charges of murder and assault; and David Cernazanu has been held since April 24 on child pornography charges.

“We can house some of the them together to get to 20,” Ash said. “That still gives us enough room to manage when we get new people in to quarantine.”

Although more space will be available, it remains limited.

“We are trying to house people who are chronic problems,” Ash said.

The sheriff said he is working in cooperation with Circuit Court and the District Attorney’s Office to make those decisions.

“I’m excited to have more room in the jail,” District Attorney Greg Baxter said Friday. “I feel the word spread quickly amongst the criminals that they wouldn’t be held on minor crimes.”

With the change, Baxter said he has instructed law enforcement to arrest those they would have arrested in the past and take them to the jail.

“If the jail isn’t able to hold them, then they’ll cite and release them,” he said.

His deputies in the District Attorney’s Office also will seek bail on any cases for which they would have asked for bail in the past.

And again, it will be up to the Sheriff’s Office to determine whether or not the suspects will be held.

“If they hold them, good — if they don’t, (those cited and released) can walk from the jail,” Baxter said. “We still have to do our job.”

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