Portland business owners turn to private security after city reimburses police

Lisa Schroeder, owner of Mother’s Bistro & Bar in downtown Portland, Oregon, realized things had to change last month after being on hold for over an hour with the local police department.

“I waited for the non-urgent police number after an incident where a skateboarder trashed a bunch of glasses we had outside our restaurant for alfresco dining,” Schroeder told the Washington Times. “I finally hung up after almost an hour and a half. “

Ms Schroeder, tired of having to repeatedly clean graffiti from the windows of her comfort food restaurant, thought it was time she joined the growing list of Old Town companies that hire private security guards to protect employees and property.

She was relieved to learn that another tenant in her building had already done so.

“Without the police, you know, crime happens,” she said.

Local police union chief Aaron Schmautz said people like Ms Schroeder were “very reasonably” frustrated.

“A lot of these business owners are just waiting for help out there,” said Mr. Schmautz, president of the Portland Police Association. He added that some companies find it difficult to attract customers because “people don’t feel safe.”

Last week, the Portland Police Office – the official name for the city’s police force – announced that due to understaffing, officers would only answer high priority, life-threatening or endangering property. The ministry also warned that even those responses could be delayed.

“The number of appeals in terms of how many officers we have on the street is – it’s just untenable – that’s why we keep saying we need more people.” Schmautz said, adding that some officers start their shifts with 30 to 50 unanswered calls waiting for service.

The exodus of officers from Portland began in July 2020 after racial justice protests spread across the country following the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a Minnesota police officer.

Protests have been held almost nightly in Portland for more than 100 days, and city leaders have responded to calls to “fund the police” by slashing the force’s budget by $ 15 million. Spending on law enforcement in the city has declined in each of the past three fiscal years, from $ 238.2 million to $ 229.5 million to $ 222.5 million.

The city of over 654,000 currently has nearly 200 vacancies on a police force with 917 licensed positions. Just three years ago, the force had 1,016 badges. Baltimore, a city with almost 50,000 fewer residents, has a police force of 2,500 officers.
But as the police force shrinks, crime increases.

Portland has recorded at least 69 homicides so far in 2021 – the highest number since 67 were recorded in 1987.

The number of drug-related crimes in the city almost tripled compared to the same period last year, from 318 to 895; shootings are up 35%, from 695 to 1,080; and car hijackings are up 23%, from 5,337 to 6,994.

Police Chief Chuck Lovell, responding to a recent wave of violence in the city, said last week: “We know our community is concerned about the rise in violence and we are doing our best to respond and investigate. these crimes. “

Kris Henning, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University, says the officer shortage also means police are carrying out more responsive, rather than proactive, policing.

“The # 1 thing that influences people and discourages them from engaging in criminal activity is the perceived risk of getting caught,” Henning said. “There’s not much of a perceived risk of getting caught in Portland anymore.”

Bar owner Oleg Pilipenko says the city has become a “wild far west” these days.

“I mean, right now we can’t even walk in the city because it’s not safe,” Pilipenko said. “It’s a lawless city… This is how people feel now: because there is no law on the streets, you don’t have to follow the law. “

Mr Pilipenko’s bar, Katie O’Brien’s, has been broken into twice in recent weeks.

Now he closes the bar two hours earlier each day and doubles the number of employees on each shift – but says it’s still difficult to keep employees because they “don’t feel safe” at the job. job.

Jessie Burke, owner of the nearby Society Hotel, recently told Oregon Public Broadcasting that she now called Echelon Protective Services, a private security company she hired in July 2020, before contacting police.

“Neighborhoods used to have a walking pace [cop] because they could get to know everyone and it was easier to tone things down then. That’s what Echelon does, ”Burke told the outlet. “They’re in the neighborhood, walking around the neighborhood, all the time. That’s why they know everyone.

Echelon co-owner Reid Kerr told The Times that security guards are trying “to provide residents with the services they need to tackle homelessness, drug addiction and hunger.”

The company was launched in Portland in 2019 and has more than 50 employees and more than 300 customers nationwide.

Security guards “are not only trained to defuse situations, but they also receive extensive training to help people with mental health and addiction issues,” Kerr said.

Multnomah District Attorney Mike Schmidt, however, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that last fall his office stopped pursuing charges in cases that rely heavily on testimony from Echelon security guards.

“I have been troubled by allegations of misconduct on the part of Echelon Protective Services employees,” Schmidt told the outlet. Taken together, they suggest that Echelon’s personnel are insufficiently trained in de-escalation of conflict, the use of force as a last resort only, and basic tactical considerations intended to protect both themselves and themselves. members of the public with whom they interact. “

Police union leader Schmautz also warned that there could be downsides to replacing sworn and professionally trained officers with cops for hire.

There shouldn’t be a “zero sum game” where residents feel they have to choose between security guards or the police, because that is “where you end up with things going wrong” , did he declare.

Mr Schmautz noted that security guards are “limited” in how they can react to certain situations because they do not have the same training or the same rights as police officers.

He highlighted the shooting death last May of a man by a private security guard hired by a shopping center in North Portland. The guard was recently indicted and faces charges in this case.

Authorities say Logan Gimbel was illegally carrying a gun while working for Cornerstone Security Group when he shot dead Freddy Nelson in a parking lot at Delta Park Center.

The security guard claims he was acting in self-defense because he thought Mr. Nelson was going to run over him with his car.

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