CANNON BEACH — Calls for service to the Cannon Beach Police Department have already surpassed the number from last year, an increase tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
The police department had 3,457 calls for service as of Oct. 1 — 510 ahead of the total for 2019.
Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn attributed the increase to the pandemic, with overnight camping as the largest factor.
Clatsop County and cities placed restrictions on hotels and other lodging after an influx of spring break visitors in March. Cannon Beach took additional measures and excluded visitors who lived outside a 50-mile radius of the city.
Schermerhorn said people still wanting to escape to the beach would camp in their cars or on the beach.
Even after restrictions on hotels and other lodging were lifted, the police chief said there has been a steady increase in overnight camping, including 33 recent cases just over one weekend.
“There’s still just a lot of traffic coming down and people aren’t wanting to pay the money for a hotel room, so they’ll just stay in their car,” Schermerhorn said.
The police department has also seen a significant increase in vandalism, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
“I guess we were hoping that it would slow down, but it just has continued on,” Schermerhorn said. “We’ve continued to be busy daily with different things, and certainly mental health issues that have been coming up. I don’t foresee a change anytime soon, especially with the way COVID is going and the economy.
“I think that this is going to be the new normal.”
The police department has eight officers, with one or two officers on patrol at a time.
Schermerhorn said the department has felt the burden of the extra calls. He said that between the workload increase, the national movement to defund police and the pandemic, officers are feeling worn down.
“I’ve encouraged all the officers to take vacation and spend time with their families when they can,” he said. “And I think they’re all being pretty good about that and being fair to one another, giving each other the opportunities to take some time off.”
Schermerhorn said an uptick in calls related to mental health issues and alcohol consumption during the pandemic may be tied to the increase in disorderly conduct cases, which have gone up from three in 2019 to 16 this year.
The mobile crisis team from Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s mental health contractor, has up to two clinical staff available to assist police throughout the county with calls involving people experiencing mental health crisis. But the agency has limited resources and the staffers are not always immediately available.
“They can only do so much and they still need law enforcement there,” Schermerhorn said. “Of course, we love having the help and working with them, but I think it’s certainly just another tool that we can use in conjunction with what we’re doing.”
Stickers popping up on street signs around town have accounted for most of the vandalism and criminal mischief cases, Schermerhorn said, which have jumped from 16 in 2019 to 31 this year.
Schermerhorn said the stickers usually promote Black Lives Matter and defund the police. Earlier on in the pandemic, there were stickers protesting virus restrictions.
Black Lives Matter protesters usually congregate in the city at noon and Schermerhorn said they have been peaceful and cooperative.
Since protests began, he said officers have been doing weekly training modules and more diversity training is being scheduled.