PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A newly-formed coalition in Washington County announced certain property crimes will be classified as felonies during the coronavirus pandemic.
The county’s District Attorney’s Office released a statement Monday noting that Oregon law (ORS 164.055) allows for various misdemeanor thefts that occur during a state of emergency to be charged at the felony level, regardless of the property value.
The City of Tigard has seen a 60% increase in commercial burglaries in April compared to this time last year, according to law enforcement officials. Businesses shut down under the pandemic, as well as others that have remained open, are targets. In some instances, people have even pushed full shopping carts out the door without paying.
“These criminals are knowing that some of the loss prevention officers may be less inclined to be near people because of COVID, or more distracted because the stores are even busier and being more brazen in what they’re doing,” said Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton.
Tigard Police said it is focusing on theft rings operating in the region as an increasing number of commercial businesses have reported theft.
“Big box stores and small retailers have reported increases in shoplifting crime,” said Barton. “We have examples of shoplifters who have told police, ‘You can’t arrest me because of COIVID.’ So we know very well that there are situations where people are committing crimes thinking they can get away with it because of COIVID and that’s not the case.”
Along with Tigard Police and the businesses community, the DA’s office outlined examples of cases where felony charges may occur:
- The theft directly relates to the COVID-19 emergency (such as theft of face masks or PPE);
- The defendant’s actions demonstrate that he/she is taking advantage of the COVID-19 emergency in order to commit the theft (such as a theft of a closed business or otherwise taking advantage of the emergency for personal gain); or,
- The theft was committed by a person who has committed multiple property crimes during the pandemic and otherwise meets the $100 threshold for theft in the second degree.
“Burglaries in our community, particularly those targeting commercial businesses, were up 60% in April compared to April of 2019,” said Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine. “We are also seeing a marked increase in the number of stolen vehicle reports throughout Tigard.”
The Tigard Police Department’s Commercial Crime Unit said it has since increased patrols and its outreach to businesses to respond to increases in crime.