With an increase of reported shootings in the Hermiston area in 2023, Hermiston Police Department officials said they are seeking help to address the issue.
While the HPD doesn’t have exact numbers, Chief Jason Edmiston has confirmed an increase of shootings, estimating around a dozen occurrences this year.
“What we know is we are dealing with a relatively small number of individuals choosing to engage in reckless criminal acts involving guns,” Edmiston said.
“We have had car-versus-car, such as the incident where the juvenile female was struck with a round, but the majority are at or near the homes of offenders,” said Edmiston.
The car-versus-cars incident took place Oct. 7 in which four minors were involved in a shooting that resulted in a 17-year-old female being transported to Portland via Life Flight due to a bullet wound in the cheek area.
Although several shootings have resulted in people being hospitalized, Edmiston said none have resulted in any deaths.
The issue is not isolated to Hermiston either, he added, noting his officers have assisted other law enforcement agencies outside the HPD service area with shootings.
To further support and encourage communication between area law enforcement agencies regarding the matter, HPD Lt. Robert Guerrero hosted an intelligence meeting Oct. 11.
“Lt. Guerrero and others discussed commonalities and the need for collection of evidence to be submitted to the crime lab for analysis,” Edmiston said. “Because most of the people involved in these shootings do not cooperate with officers, we are going to rely on evidence to link things together.”
The drawback to this, he said, is it will take time due to the Oregon State Police crime lab prioritizing its workload.
Also posing major obstacles, Edmiston said, are understaffing and a need for assistance, which has resulted in the HPD seeing a 20% decrease in personnel. Since summer of 2020, law enforcement on a national level have seen people leave the profession, including HPD losing five of its staff members, he said.
“The good news is people are still willing to do the job. The bad news is two-fold,” said Edmiston.
Psychological evaluations of potential new hires have found that candidates are able to do the job, but the question is for how long.
He stated that after waiting 60 days the HPD can hire personnel to start initial training before they attend the police academy for 16 weeks and return to the station for an additional 10 weeks of in-house training.
“From the time a vacancy is experienced to the time we hire and train someone, we are talking upwards of 235-plus days before that new officer is out on their own working,” he said. “That is a huge investment.”
Communication and group support seem to be key factors in the HPD plan to combat the shooting issue.
“We have been in constant communication with our district attorney’s office and are working to put cases forward for aggressive prosecution when we connect the dots,” Edmiston said.
In addition to federal partners and area agencies, he said he’s also reached out to local leaders to discuss the matter in person and continues to maintain open communication with the Hermiston School District.
“The flow of information to/from our agency and that of the Hermiston School District is constant,” said Edmiston. “I speak regularly with school Supt. Dr. (Tricia) Mooney as does both Capt. Scott Clark and Capt. Travis Eynon.”
He and Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan in a joint statement said regular discussion on the matter with local leaders has been taking place monthly at the sheriff’s office in Pendleton.
“I want to remind people that we target criminal behavior, not people, unless they are engaged in crime,” said Edmiston.
Going forward the HPD plans to handle shootings and transient matters in an aggressive-but-legal way to fix the issues that are impacting the livability of citizens, he said.