by Clayton Szczech

The last four months have seen the Police Bureau increase their already substantial presence in North and inner- Northeast neighborhoods, despite the fact that most crimes are committed in Southeast Portland. After a rash of allegedly gang-related shootings in late 1997, the Northeast Precinct increased the number of officers in the Humboldt-Killingsworth area from two to six, including two "gang enforcement" officers and a "mobile command post" RV (Skanner 12/3/97).

City Council has unveiled its own plan to reduce gun violence among Portland's youth. According to a February issue of Willamette Week, the plan is comprised of two parts: law enforcement and prevention. The law enforcement component is being directed by Mayor and Police Commissioner Vera Katz. Under the auspices of Katz, the Police are compiling a list of fifty people who the police consider to be violent gang members. The young people will be monitored by a special "strike force" of officers, who will attempt to catch listed individuals engaging in criminal activity. In 1994, the Bureau's "gang list" was struck down for being too broad (see PPR #9). The criteria for being on that list included "wearing clothes or jewelry unique to a gang." The re-introduction of this unconstitutional tactic is completely unacceptable.

In addition to targeting certain individuals, the Bureau will begin focusing on a small area of Northeast Portland where they will be enforcing a "zero-tolerance" policy, whereby officers will be stopping young people for minor infractions such as jaywalking, littering and curfew violations. Obviously, such a policy leaves the question of who to stop for these "crimes" entirely at the discretion of individual police officers. Many people in the targeted neighborhoods fear that the cops will use this as pretext to further harass and intimidate people of color.

The "prevention" piece of City Council's plan is being headed by Commissioner Jim Francesconi. The as-of-yet undeveloped plan will reportedly involve job training and after-school activities for young people. This type of approach, while limited in possibilities, seems more sane and rational than cracking down on the civil rights of young residents of Northeast. However, it appears that the Mayor and Police Bureau will be given the funding and leeway necessary to further militarize NE Portland, while the prevention programs will likely languish away in the planning stages before being given up on and forgotten.

Relatedly, the Police Bureau and a group of housing agencies have received a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of the grant money, $185,000 will be used to hire two extra officers to patrol the Humboldt, King, Boise, Eliot and Vernon neighborhoods. The officers will not respond to emergency calls from the community, but will only stop and apprehend people. The remaining $70,000 (a mere 28%) of the grant will be used for capital improvements in low-income housing in the area (Oregonian, 3/5/98). At a time when rents are skyrocketing and an estimated 1,500 children are homeless in Portland, we are appalled that a federal agency entrusted with housing the poor is giving large grants to law enforcement agencies.

The police justify this increased presence, and the curtailment of civil liberties that is sure to follow, by claiming that most "gang activity" is concentrated in NE Portland. When one looks at the numbers though, it becomes clear that if this sudden crackdown were about crime, the cops would be focusing on the other side of Burnside. Not only have five police officers been shot in Southeast since July of 1997, but the Police Bureau's own statistics demonstrate that far more crimes are committed in this area than in Northeast. The Southeast leads the Northeast in rapes, burglaries, larcenies, car thefts and arsons. Northeast has a slightly higher number of assaults and murders, and the police claim they are focusing on NE to reduce violent crime. Apparently, the police do not consider rape a violent crime, as there were nearly twice as many rapes in SE (82) as murders in ALL of Portland (45) in 1996. The Southeast precinct leads the city in both calls for service to the police (97,454 in 1997) and total crimes reported (39,000; while NE reports only 33,000) (Oregonian, 2/19/98; PPB Planning and Support Division). We offer this not as a call for an increased police presence in Southeast, but as evidence that the police have priorities besides crime prevention when they decide where to station additional officers.

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