In response to the recent rash of violence and abuse in the Rogue Valley, the candidates for Jackson County's top law enforcement officer faced off, outlining how they would make a difference.
"It's not hard to look at the last two weeks or the last two months or two years in this community to know that crimes against children and crimes of domestic and sexual violence are at epidemic levels," said Dee Anne Everson, Executive Director of the United Way.
From the Tenth Street tragedy, the death of Jessica Bethany or the alleged murder of Kristy Huddleston.
Jackson County has responded to more than 3,500 incidents of domestic violence a year. And it's just as bad for our county's most vulnerable with 849 cases of child abuse and neglect.
With so many criminal cases at stake, some consider the District Attorney's race one of the most important local races in recent history.
"It's an important race and people need to become educated," said Everson.
Which is why Jackson County's Child Abuse Network and the Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence organized Tuesday night's D.A. candidate forum at Central Medford High School.
For 90 minutes, the candidates answered tough questions before a packed house, addressing how they would help stem the tide of violence as D.A. They all agreed on one thing: prevention through education.
Chief Deputy D.A. Beth Heckert said "We have to work with the community partners. We've got to all work together."
Chief Deputy District Attorney Beth Heckert stressed her two decades of experience. "My opponents do not have that same level of experience and I think that's important," she said.
"It's not a matter of 23 years versus 13 years, which is what I have. It's what you've done with the years you've been given," said Deputy D.A. David Hoppe.
Deputy D.A. David Hoppe has spent the last decade prosecuting major child abuse and domestic violence cases. In 2008, he was awarded "Child Abuse Prosecutor of the Year" for the state of Oregon.
Hoppe says his approach will be more aggressive.
"When you look at who's handling the big cases in the office in the past year and a half, 2 years, 5 years, it has been me and I have been taking them to court, getting life sentences, holding people accountable," said Hoppe.
But former State Representative, Rob Patridge, says he will change the culture of the D.A.'s office and buck the status quo.
"I'll not only be ambassador and be the spokesmen for the D.A.'s office, but I expect the deputies in the D.A.'s office to continue making an impact in the community instead of sitting in their offices and prosecuting cases," said Patridge.
Patridge, a three-term State Representative who served as majority whip for the GOP, says he will utilize his experience in Salem to help prosecute criminals.
"Right now we are stymied by the system. We've got to make some substantive legal changes within the system. Neither one of the other candidates know where the bathroom is at the capitol. I know how laws are made," he said.