Hermiston is a safe small city.

Most objective observers would likely come to the same conclusion by looking at the Hermiston Police Department’s crime report for 2015. And it was certainly safer in 2015 than it has been over the last decade.

For instance, there were only 21 violent crimes reported in 2015, the lowest number in any year since 2006, except for 2013. That year, only 16 violent crimes were reported. The normal range of violent crime incidents over the decade was 26 to 59, with an average of 42 violent crimes a year.

But of course, not all crimes or violent incidents get reported. Victims of domestic abuse or rape don’t always call police.

The most common crime in the largest city in Eastern Oregon last year was larceny; i.e., theft of property. There were 413 larceny crimes reported last year. That’s a rate of one larceny crime for every 2.4 percent of the population.

If all crimes in the city reported to Hermiston Police (524) were spread out evenly, it would mean 3 percent of the population was a victim of crime.

But safety is about more than numbers. If you agree that Hermiston is a safe city it is because you feel safe here. If you were recently a victim of crime, you probably don’t see Hermiston as safe.

When I moved back to Oregon in 2005, I moved into a neighborhood in northeast Salem that didn’t have the greatest reputation. But I didn’t find that out until I had signed my lease. There were things I liked a lot about the neighborhood. I could walk to several restaurants, a grocery store, drug store and several mini-markets and other businesses within a few blocks of the apartment complex. And I walked to those places quite a bit. But there were times I didn’t always feel safe on those walks, particularly at night. I was never a victim of crime in my neighborhood, but police were regular visitors to my complex and the surrounding neighborhood.

In March of 2010 there was a gun battle between a burglary suspect and police officers that left one officer wounded and the suspect dead that started about a block from my apartment complex and ended near the entrance to my complex.

Not the definition of a safe neighborhood.

The Hermiston area’s low rate of crime is an attractive quality. That doesn’t mean we should make it easy for opportunistic thieves to take advantage.

One of Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston’s goals going forward is to take steps to educate the public on ways to avoid becoming a victim of crime.

That’s an important goal and a reminder that our community’s safety is not just the responsibility of law enforcement. We, as citizens play a huge role in our own safety and security.

Lock your doors and windows. Don’t leave your car running and unlocked when you are warming it up in the morning or just running into the store to pick something up quickly. Don’t believe everything you read in email messages and online posts promising you money for a favor. And don’t believe every phone call you get (particular from out of the area numbers) saying you owe the IRS or someone else money.

Be careful. Be skeptical. Be smart. Act safe and be safe.

Thank your neighbors for contributing to your safety.

When you see local law enforcement officers at work in our community, thank them for helping to keep us as safe as we can ever expect to be in an unpredictable world.

But don’t forget to smile, because you will also be on a very candid police body camera.

Gary L. West is editor of the Hermiston Herald and Hermiston editor for the East Oregonian. Reach him at gwest@hermistonherald.com or follow him on Twitter @GaryLWest or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/journalist.glwest.

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