Counting crime in Clark County

Level of criminal activity varies by area

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Clark County crime statistics 2011

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photoVancouver Police Cpl. Drue Russell, left, runs the identification of a man police found camping next to the Slocum House in Esther Short Park. Meanwhile VPD Cpl. Duane Boynton secures the man after he disclosed to officers that he was carrying a knife.

(/The Columbian)

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Apples, plums, pears and berries, tomatoes, peppers, squash, herbs and more.

That’s what Valerie Alexander grows on her 70-acre farm in the East Fork Hills Rural neighborhood.

And when she takes a notion, she puts up her U-pick sign, or offers her produce for sale at the La Center Farmers Market.

Last year, East Fork Hills Rural was rated the safest of about 100 neighborhoods in Vancouver and Clark County, according to statistics collected by the county crime analysis unit.

So how does it feel to live in the safest neighborhood in Clark County?

“It’s wonderful,” said Alexander, who is president of the East Fork Hills Rural Association. “I hope it stays that way. We’re crossing our fingers.”

East Fork Hills Rural is a pretty area of rolling hills, west and north of La Center, along Northwest Pacific Highway near Woodland.

Alexander, a retired nurse, says she grows all those fruits and vegetables with the help of several employees.

On Feb. 27, sheriff’s Deputy Gordon Conroy stopped by her home to say hello.

“He wanted to meet me and find out if neighbors had any concerns,” she said.

East Fork Hills Rural had a grand total of 11 crimes and a population of 880 last year.

That works out to a crime rate of 12.5 crimes per 1,000 residents.

The pattern of rural safety from crime is repeated for the second-lowest crime rate, 22.1, in the Ridgefield Junction neighborhood.

The crime analysis unit tallied the rates for about 100 neighborhoods that have active associations, using a system that counts all crimes equally, from the first of last year through Nov. 23.

Turning to the areas with the highest crime rates, the unusual Esther Short neighborhood topped the list again, with 471.3 crimes per 1,000 residents.

Several factors skew this rate, including the fact that a small number of people, 1,804, actually live there. But during the day, many thousands of folks swarm to the neighborhood, which includes all of downtown Vancouver south of Mill Plain Boulevard.

Attractions include Esther Short Park; the Clark County Courthouse with nearby law, bail-bond and federal offices; banks and other businesses; and theaters, shops, restaurants and bars.

More people in the area means more crime. That, divided by the small population, works out to a high crime rate but doesn’t mean it’s unsafe to visit.

The second-highest crime rate, 386.6, was in the Meadow Homes neighborhood, a fact that each year rankles the law-abiding folks who for many years have lived in smaller, well-kept homes there.

But the neighborhood also includes many low-rent apartment complexes and teens who are drawn to gangs and committing crimes, both serious and petty.

Fort Vancouver High School also is in the neighborhood, and officials say crime rates tend to jump around high schools. There are crimes such as fights typical around high schools and, as in Esther Short, the students and teachers who are there during the day may not live in the neighborhood and aren’t counted in the population.

Neighborhoods with malls or other very large numbers of stores and other businesses tend to amass plenty of shoplifting and bad-check crimes that don’t make the area unsafe. Meadow Homes is bounded on the north by East Fourth Plain Boulevard, and on the east by Andresen Road, both heavily lined with businesses.

In another note, the population estimates for many neighborhoods have dropped to reflect the 2010 Census. That can raise their crime rates a bit, an official said.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.