Over a 35 year police career you learn there are no easy answers to violence that result from deep rooted social problems. But the discussion of the Portland Police Bureau getting back into the Joint Terrorism Task Force has been a laughable parade of inaction and nonsense.
As Public Information Officer for the Oregon State Police for many years it became clear to me that know matter how tough we talked or how much we protested about violent events that shocked a community or the state there was little effect on continuing negative consequences. As Chief of Police in Gresham we learned that the burgeoning number of violent events in the far west part of our community know as Rockwood were not effected by me standing in front of media event warning of future violence and asking the community to do something. As Sheriff I found there was no effective result to reduce community disorder or violence while whining about the lack of jail beds. What works is decisive leadership that takes no political hostages.
The recent trend of violent events occurring on the streets of Portland and the lack of focused political leadership are a prime reason why the violence in the form of juvenile and young adult gun play will continue until the whining stops and action starts. It appears that somehow the best political minds in Portland and Multnomah County cannot conclude that we need to do something different. More amazingly it appears that if we have been taken by surprise by the recent violence. Our institutional memory apparently does not recall we have see this this in predictable cycles before over a period of 25-30 years.
But apparently we can’t stand success, so led by the uninterested political Portland and Multnomah leadership we quit the Safe Streets Initiative. Now to be fair, uninterested does not necessarily mean directly encouraging the violence to return over time. What it does mean is that keeping the streets safe and juvenile gun offenders in check was not a top budget priority. In fact it did even make the list.
Catch-up is costly in both effectiveness and worse yet lives that hang in the balance.
Now it has to be said that police departments or police bureaus need to move on and other matters take our time and resources. However, the does not forgive totally losing sight of the issue whether it be gangs, guns or gangs and guns. A little less than a decade ago the Police Bureau either with the support or at the direct instruction of the Portland Mayor’s Office/City Council completely disbanded their Gang Enforcement Team ( known as G.E.T.). This high powered street enforcement, street crimes unit had a laser focus on gang activity with a advanced degrees in the interception and a seizure of illegal firearms.
Over time the majority community came to trust GET and the team developed a sophisticated intelligence network. The result was illegal guns often found their way to the hands of the cops instead of our kids. And no matter how violent they appear, or how often they become the victims of violence they are kids in both social responsibility and young male brain development. We shouldn’t surrender the streets back to youth gangs and the gun violence it brings. Yes, they will tell you GET is back and has been for a while but the funding commitment is an eight-to-five mentality with the political will to really bring the problem to resolution no where in sight.
And in certainly does not help when our beloved Oregonian wrings its collective editorial hands with a bunch of tough rhetoric about the lack of community outrage. Police command personnel are quoted placing blame on lackluster community response. What nonsense! The responsibility lies directly at the feet of political leadership.
So let me propose an overdue conversation directly to the issue.
I have always wanted to be a Mayor! I was a Gresham city Councilor (without pay). I was Council President twice. But I have never been Mayor. Here is my chance to be the Mayor of Portland and Police Commissioner.
My first official act is to go directly to the Office of the Chief of Police where I have asked him to have his command personnel present. I have also invited the head of the Portland Police Association. The meeting has begun, let’s listen in:
So I have told you what I expect of you in general terms. Let me tell you what you can count on from me in specific terms. First, in your plan you will identify overtime hours to be worked by the cops without consideration for cost. Your only consideration will be their safety and targeted overtime expenditures. We will reconcile the costs weekly and you and I will discuss more or less based on results not budget. I expect in ninety days we should have a meaningful measure of effectiveness. Our tolerance for violence or behavior the is a precursor of violent behavior is now zero.
I am going to see the County Commission Chair. I will be insisting that Donald Long Juvenile Detention Center begin to accept all low level juvenile offenders, because I expect your plan to include low level juvenile crime and violation custody. Curfew only being one of those acts in play.
I will then talk to the Sheriff and DA and insist that adult offenders with violent crime or chronic property crime histories find their way to jail and prosecution. Oh yeah by the way, I will let the Chair know that the county is in for the additional costs of bed and prosecution for the duration of your plan. If we can’t agree we will take the issue directly to our citizens.
Next I will talk to the Presiding Judge. There is really no influencing sentences but guaranteed arraignment for certain adult offenders before release after arrest from jail is a realistic discussion.
We won’t forget about our probation or outreach social service partners. They will be a part of your plan I know. However making excuses for those offenders who we know are plaguing our community will not work. For those who want help we are here, for those who continue to haunt our community promoting violence the police and prosecution are the answer.
For a while we will be ever present with a promise of safety for our citizens and sanctions for those who cannot get it right. You will have my full support and will tell the community as much. I expect concerns to be voiced as we begin a full face presence in the trouble parts of community. We will face that criticism head on. I know I can count on you and your troops. It will be your overall professional bearing that will reassure and reaffirm the confidence of our citizens in our leadership. I need your help and support. No more excuses, I mean from me.”
Chief: ” Yes sir, you will have the plan by the end of the week”.
You know sometimes it is not easy being Mayor.
But before we make excuses for spending money from Enterprise Funds (water, sewer, storm water) restricted by state budget law, on college scholarships, remodeling a Rose Festival Headquarters Building, bike paths or cost overruns you choose which project, perhaps we could focus on keeping our young ones alive and fear from pervading our streets.