EUGENE, Ore. -- The Eugene Police Department said Wednesday it would place greater emphasis on technology to tackle the city's pervasive property crime problem.
Speaking at a morning press conference, Police Chief Pete Kerns said the agency plans to use sophisticated computer programs to map crime across the city.
Officials will then use that data to dispatch officers to problem areas. The idea, he said, is to have officers in the right place at the right time.
"It's a way for us to use the few resources we have as efficiently and effectively as we possibly can," Kerns said.
The system -- officially called "data-led policing" -- is already in use, and officials have identified the neighborhoods near the University of Oregon and the Kinsrow area near Autzen Stadium as hotspots.
Kerns said residents of those neighborhoods can expect to see an increase in patrol cars and quicker response times.
Eugene consistently rates high in nationwide studies of property crime -- and figures show the problem is getting worse.
In 2005, the city had the 6th highest rate of bicycle theft, ahead of Philadelphia, Oakland and Miami, according to a study by bike lock manufacturer Kryptonite.
In 2008, the city had the 40th highest rate of car thefts, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
And last year, police reported a nearly 15 percent spike in property crimes across the city – even as crime rates statewide were going down.
Kerns said he's confident the new strategy will help. But he maintained that Eugene will struggle to get a hold on the property crime problem until it deals with two over-arching issues.
He noted that the department's budget has been decimated by the decline of timber payments, which has left the city with far fewer officers than cities of similar size. He also said that Lane County doesn't have enough jail space to house all its criminals, which makes it difficult to keep non-violent property offenders behind bars.
Capt. Chuck Tilby, who oversees the city’s east side, said Eugene residents might also have a false sense of security because the rate of violent crime in the community is so low.
As a result, he said citizens routinely leave the doors to their homes and cars unlocked.
"We're seeing laptops, jewelry ... those kinds of things being taken out of both homes and cars," Tilby said. "It's amazing to us that there are a number of cases out there where that stuff is visible in a car."