Multnomah County law enforcement and political leaders came together Wednesday to reassure the public that they’re working together to improve public safety.
The press conference organized by District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s office didn’t come with announcements of any new public safety initiatives. Rather, the politicians — including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall — and police leaders from Portland and Gresham used the moment to reaffirm existing public safety programs and increases to police budgets.
Schmidt highlighted ways his office works closely with police agencies to prosecute people who’ve committed crimes.
“I meet with both police chiefs and the sheriff regularly to solve the challenges we see in our community and within our respective agencies as each of us grapples with limited resources amidst a surge in violent crime,” Schmidt said
The conference comes on the heels of Portland marking a grim milestone: as of Nov. 23, the city surpassed its record of 92 homicides in a year. The city also set a record number of homicides in 2021.
Meanwhile, a nationwide shortage of public defenders has forced Multnomah County Circuit Court judges to dismiss cases. Schmidt last month started publishing a weekly list of dismissed cases, which have included low-level assaults, domestic violence, property crimes and firearm-related offenses.
Schmidt said city leaders from Portland and Gresham had committed to helping fund a new deputy district attorney position for eastern Multnomah County’s Rockwood neighborhood, a community shared by both cities.
“That’s an area that’s been hit really hard by gun violence,” Schmidt said. “And we’ve seen across the country, when prosecutors are in the community, they see gun violence go down in those places when they’re working hand in hand with law enforcement.”
Wednesday’s press conference marked a noteworthy shift in Schmidt’s tone. In 2020, Schmidt campaigned on promises to focus on criminal justice reform. He was elected amid a wave of similarly progressive DAs taking office around the country with promises to end policies like cash bail that have historically oppressed marginalized people.
But the political environment has shifted since then. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have focused their attention on criminal punishment as voters shout concerns over homelessness and crime, while some progressive prosecutors have faced recalls.
Even so, it’s unclear if Schmidt called the press conference with a potential 2024 reelection campaign in mind. He told reporters the gathering was an opportunity to educate the public about how his office works closely with police agencies. He added that addressing public safety issues, like rising violent crime rates, isn’t redirecting his focus on criminal justice reform.
“A lot of the political narrative is you have to have one or the other: You can only have reform or you can have safety, and you must choose,” Schmidt said. “Everybody here behind me today is committed to the idea that no, those two things are intricately linked.”