We’ll get to the statements made by Portland’s Police Chief in a moment but first I want to look back at some of the recent efforts to downplay the significance of the nightly protests/riots in the city. Remember this map of Portland showing the tiny area (in red) where nightly protests were taking place?
The images that populate national media feeds, however, come almost exclusively from a tiny point of the city: a 12-block area surrounding the Justice Center and federal courthouse.
And they occur exclusively during late-night hours in which only a couple hundred or fewer protesters and scores of police officers are out in the city’s coronavirus-hollowed downtown.
Those events are hardly representative of daily life, including peaceful anti-racism demonstrations that have drawn tens of thousands of protesters, in a city of 650,000 people that encompasses 145 square miles.
That argument made a big impression on CNN’s Brian Stelter (among others). Stelter wrote about in his daily newsletter and talked about it on his TV show. The real point of all this was to argue that the nightly protest/riots shouldn’t be seen as a big deal by anyone outside Portland since they weren’t even a big deal inside Portland. As Stelter wrote at the time, “Evidently a small group of self-described anarchists suddenly deserved national news coverage.”
Like a lot of things Stelter latches onto, it was a dumb argument with an obvious partisan bias. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:
This strikes me as a fairly stupid argument for the Oregonian to make and for Stelter to embrace for several reasons. First, while the action may be happening in a small area downtown, the hundreds of people who are out there every night and the police who are battling them probably live in areas all over this map. So the idea that other communities are disconnected from these riots is a stretch.
And it turns out the impact of these nightly protests has been quite dramatic on the city as a whole in several ways. First, police in Portland have spent an enormous amount of overtime dealing with the protests that often turn into riots. As of two weeks ago the total cost was $5.4 million dollars. And with local and state police taking over from the feds at the start of the month, that will likely soar. Simply put, the cost of this won’t fall on just a tiny section of the map.
Second, crime is up sharply in Portland. With police focusing enormous resources on the protests, they aren’t able to respond to other issues as quickly. Two weeks ago, about the time Brian Stelter was arguing this wasn’t news, KATU 2 reported there was a spike in the number of break-ins in the city. The average number of these crimes for the month of June in the past three years has been 401. This year the number was 473. And response times to deal with these crimes are up as well. One store owner who discovered she’d been robbed of $4,000 in jewelry called police and waited 24-hours for a response:
Cole said she called police on the non-emergency line around 1 p.m. on July 16, and the dispatcher told her an officer would be by within the hour.
“Two hours went by and then three hours went by,” Cole said. “Then they called me and said they weren’t going to be able to get to me at all that day, which was insane to me.”…
In June and July from 2017 to 2019, the average response time for a high-priority burglary was about 6 minutes and 20 seconds. This year, it’s up more than 150%, to just above 16 minutes…
“The PPB does not have a singular focus on demonstrations; however, they are a significant draw on our already limited resources. We make every attempt to respond to each call that comes into the PPB in a timely manner,” Assistant Chief Andrew Shearer said.
And that’s not even the worst of it. Violent crime in the city is up sharply as well. The number of shootings in July is the highest the city has seen since the 1980s.
Police recorded 99 shootings in July, up from 35 in the same month a year ago, police said. There were also 15 homicides in July, the largest number of killings in a single month in the city in three decades, police said.
The Oregonian (the same paper that argued two weeks ago the protests were a very limited phenomenon) created this graph of homicides in the city.
The city’s police chief made it very clear yesterday that responding to nightly protests was leaving his officers tired and with fewer officers to respond to other emergencies.
“We continue to have some nightly, violent criminal activity that’s taking place in our city. This has been problematic for us as it’s a drain on resources,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said. He continued, “We have people who are just dedicated to provoking a police response and that response is taking away from our ability to go out and give people the service they expect from the police bureau.
“People expect to get their calls for service answered. They expect us to be able to respond to their calls for service, respond to the shootings that we’re having and things of that nature. So we’re really calling on people to come out and to say that that [rioting] activity needs to stop.”
Later in response to a question from a reporter Lovell said, “When we pull those resources to assist with the crowd control, it leaves very few cars in the precinct to answer 911 calls, sometimes just 2 or 3 cars. And if we get a shooting or a critical incident there that requires multiple cars, people aren’t getting police service and that’s the real issue.” He added that this also meant police weren’t out being pro-active and trying to prevent crime because they only have enough resources to respond to emergencies.
Forcing officers to respond to nightly riots is taking a toll on their ability to respond to everything else. So if you live in Portland, the riots are impacting your city and potentially even your own safety whether you ever see the rioters in your neighborhood or not.
Of course there are other factors influencing this including decisions by the city council which recently cut the PPB’s Gun Violence Reduction Team. But the riots are one significant factor stretching resources too thin. The impact of that is not limited to a tiny red square on a map. Here’s Chief Lovell: