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Election | local | Portland Mayoral Race

Police Policies Are Key Issue In Race For Portland Mayor

A new poll by OPB and Fox 12 shows Portland’s mayoral race is a very close contest. Three leading contenders, Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith, are so close that, according to the polling firm DHM Research, they fall within the poll’s margin of error of plus- or minus-five percent.

Many voters are still undecided.

One of the key policy questions voters frequently ask is how candidates would handle policing. April Baer reports.


Even in parts of town with relatively low crime rates, voters are asking about safety issues. Al Ellis chairs the Beaumont-Wilshire Neighborhood Association.

Poll Results
Complete poll results .pdf

On a bench at the park, Ellis looks across the well-landscaped ranches and bungalows ringing the park. Ellis says a lot of neighbors noticed when police officials stopped in to talk to the association about the city’s budget projections for 2012. That will mean more than $6 million in police reductions.

“It begs the question: if these cuts go through, what will be the impact?” Ellis askes.

So Ellis says he’s listening to how the candidates are talking about policing. He’d like to hear a lot more.

Nearby, musician Devin Phillips watches his two-year-old run toy trucks around the park sandbox.

“I want it to be as safe as possible here,” says Phillips, a New Orleans transplant who moved here after hurricane Katrina. He bought a house here seven months ago.

He’s African-American, and says he’s had run-ins with police officers that had racial overtones. But relatively speaking, Phillips values how quiet it is here.

“One of the reasons I stayed here, in my everyday life, I don’t encounter the police very often. I don’t say it to downgrade any problems we have, because they should be addressed.”

There’s a lot going on with police policy in Portland right now. The budget shows lots of Occupy-related overtime.

Relations with communities of color have been strained. Gang violence is on track for another record year. And a Justice Department investigation is exploring how the Bureau treats people with mental illness.

All three of the candidates list public safety as a priority, with training and community policing taking center stage. None have outlined funding plans for the personnel-intensive work of community policing. 

Amanda Peacher / OPB
Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales attend an anti-violence youth summit in a Northeast Portland church.

At events like this anti-violence youth summit last month at a Northeast Portland church, candidates outline their priorities.

Eileen Brady repeated her pledge to take a hands-on approach to the gun incidents that have terrified communities.

“This issue’s so important to me, I’ve said I want to help chair the Youth Gang Violence Task Force. I think the Mayor needs to be involved. You’ll be seeing me at the task force,” Brady says.

She’s also suggested drafting a joint public safety agenda with the county, and creating a mental health crisis unit with the Police Bureau.

Charlie Hales notes in his prior years on Council, he always voted in support of police budgets and labor agreements. Hales has talked about prevention and police response as his key drivers for all his decisions on budget and personnel. And he wants to engage voters city-wide on gang violence.

At the summit, Charlie participates in a breakout session focused on preventing domestic violence.

Amanda Peacher / OPB

“I think the buy-in is an understanding that it’s not just a police problem. it’s a community problem. It’s schools, it’s after-school programs, it’s job opportunities, it’s mentors. It’s all those things outside the criminal justice system that will keep a kid from going over the edge and being a gang member,” Hales says.

But the candidate who took home an endorsement from the Portland Police Association - the patrolman’s union - was Jefferson Smith.

Smith speaks often about co-founding a neighborhood transit safety program, and about his commitment to reducing officer-involved gun incidents. On the PPA’s questionnaire, Smith said he’d prioritize direct police services over capital expenditures or management costs.

At a recent debate, Smith disputed the notion that he’s in lock-step with the union.

“I do think we need to turn over every stone with the current Aaron Campbell investigation,” Smith says.

That was a controversial officer-involved shooting. The city is at odds with the PPA over the firing of the policeman involved.

Smith also addressed the union’s contention that grand jury testimony should stay secret when officers fire their guns.

“I think we do need to stand with the District Attorney to maintain a case-by-case evaluation of grand jury testimony, rather than an across the board rule, that says it should never be open.”

PPA president Daryl Turner says there are critical questions looming for the next mayor. He notes Portland has a relatively small police force given its size and population.

“One point-six per thousand is not enough police officers for the city of Portland. There’s only maybe one or two agencies on the West Coast as lean as we are of police agencies our size. That’s not acceptable for the city of Portland.”

Turner says at any given time, fewer than 400 officers are patrolling the streets. It’s not clear how the next Mayor could find resources to boost that figure.


A Day On The Campaign Trail

OPB photographers follow the candidates for a day.

Jefferson Smith Charlie Hales Eileen Brady

Jefferson Smith

Charlie Hales

Eileen Brady