Bear Creek Greenway sweep nets pot plants, citations

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department targeted trash and criminal activity along the Bear Creek Greenway Thursday, patrolling the length of the 18-mile creekside trail that runs from Central Point to Ashland.

Officers issued 29 citations, mostly for littering and illegal camping, mapped mounds of trash to be removed and found 25 marijuana plants growing outside Talent, Sheriff Mike Winters said. The growers of the drug gardens weren't found, he said.

While sweeps to clean up criminal activity and rubbish along the greenway have become routine, detectives joined the patrol Thursday to collect identifying information on the people who live there on the fringe of society.

"Our ability to identify these people if they are found dead or seriously ill or injured is inhibited," sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said, noting that investigators can spend weeks trying to confirm the identities of homeless people who don't carry identification and die of natural causes or in accidents.

In an effort to make the job of medical examiners and investigators easier, detectives from the Sheriff's Department and Oregon State Police interviewed 19 homeless people, gathering photos that could help to identify them in an emergency and information about their next of kin. Detectives also handed out lists of agencies that provide food, shelter and other resources.

Fagan said many of those contacted weren't pleased to see police initially, but they came around and consented to the project.

"When we explained our intent, by the end they seemed appreciative," he said. "They understand they are vulnerable and can be crime victims, too."

In all, 14 patrol deputies, Central Point police and detectives from the Sheriff's Department and OSP worked the trail. A helicopter patrolled the territory to guide crews on the ground to hidden campsites and spot marijuana, Winters said.

He said the teams didn't find any people who were wanted on warrants and generally found fewer people with each sweep along the path. Police increased such enforcement after a 15-year-old girl was raped along the greenway in 2006.

Winters said his department tries to do three to four such sweeps each year. People camping along the creek illegally get a warning to move along within 24 hours the first time they are contacted, then will be cited if police find them staying there again.

Getting a handle on the massive amounts of trash left by illegal campers is the next priority, the sheriff said.

"It's a huge problem," he said. "We need a trash solution and a way to stay on top of it because it can be a safety concern and cause environmental damage."

When the creek rises in winter it collects trash and human waste left where people have defecated and urinated, washing it all into the Rogue River.

Deputies mapped the worst trash sites and the county plans to send inmate work crews to clean them up, Winters said.

"I'm confident we will get it conquered and protect our environment and our investment in this trail," he said.

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