The Jackson County Sheriff's Department handled fewer property crimes last year, but saw a slight bump in certain violent crimes, according to the agency's yearly report.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department handled fewer property crimes last year, but saw a slight bump in certain violent crimes, according to the agency's yearly report.

Sheriff Mike Winters said the agency decided to focus on repeat offenders to stem the tide of property crimes plaguing the Rogue Valley in recent years.

"For the most part, the crime in the county is committed by a select few residents," Winters said. "Tracking them and keeping them in jail causes the overall numbers to fall."

Burglary reports fell from 308 in 2007 to 224 last year, a 27 percent drop. Vehicle theft fell 30 percent from 92 reports in 2007 to 64 in 2008.

Winters also cited the state's crackdown on methamphetamine for denting property crimes. A law barring stores from selling components of methamphetamine has made it harder to create the drug within the state. Most methamphetamine comes from outside Oregon, Winters said.

"And with the increase in Oregon State Police troopers on Interstate 5, we have a larger law-enforcement presence on the highways to stop the flow of drugs into the state," Winters said.

Some forms of violent crime increased slightly from 2007. Robberies peaked at 16 last year, up from seven the previous year.

There were 13 reported rapes in 2008, an increase of three from 2007.

Investigators dealt with three homicides in 2008, a drop from four in 2007. Two of last year's killings remain unsolved. Detectives still are trying to figure out who killed David Edwin Lewis, whose body was found in his burned home on Dead Indian Memorial Road outside Ashland, and Troy Dean Carney, who was found murdered in his sleeping bag on the Bear Creek Greenway near Central Point.

"There is nothing new coming to the surface on those," Winters said. "They remain open and we will stay in the hunt to bring them to a conclusion."

Traffic fatalities rose slightly in 2008, with 22 deaths reported on county highways, up from 17 the previous year. Of those 2008 crashes, 10 were caused by impaired drivers.

The economy has piled work on the sheriff's department, as it continues to serve mounting eviction and foreclosure notices.

In 2008, the agency served 11,439 papers, a bump of more than 600 from 2007.

"That increase is explicitly related to the economy," Winters said. "As people continue to struggle and businesses have liens put on them, our work with the civil court will continue to increase."

Looking to next year, Winters anticipates the completion of the new $5 million, 15,000-square-foot Southern Oregon Regional Communications dispatch center near the intersection of Table Rock and Biddle roads.

"The recent earthquake in Josephine County shows the need for an earthquake-proof communication center in this area," Winters said.

The sheriff also pledged to continue the search for large-scale marijuana gardens tucked in forested areas throughout the county.

Last year, the sheriff's deputies seized around 1,000 plants. Authorities pulled around 200,000 plants from organized crime fields each of the previous two years.

Winters believes the big busts in 2006-2007 might have dissuaded growers from taking root in Jackson County. The agency flew dozens of helicopter missions above the woods in 2008, but were not able to locate a huge garden.

"We think they took up business in other counties or states," Winters said. "And they could just be better at hiding. We still continue to watch out for them in order to make our forests safer."

To view the complete report, visit www.mailtribune.com/2008sheriffreport.