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Here's where the editor comments on matters of special concern to Inner Southeast Portland...

Not too long ago, it used to seem relatively easy to, as "McGruff the Crime Dog" used to put it, "Take a bite out of crime". But today, the whole criminal justice system in Portland appears to be a mess and, alas, ineffective.

In Portland, we now have one-third fewer police officers than we should have for a city this size — so the ones we have have to strictly prioritize the calls they respond to, and community members sometimes find themselves waiting hours for a cop to show up when they call 9-1-1. (And, here's a misconception: "9-1-1 connects you with the police department." No it doesn't. It connects you with operators from the Bureau of Emergency Services, a separate city department, and they prioritize what is even reported to the police officers. As well, the same operators also answer the "police non-emergency" calls too — whenever they have the time.)

When an arrest is made, officers book the suspect into the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) downtown — until such time as he or she can appear before a judge a few hours later. As you may have noticed in BEE reporting, judges very frequently will release those arrested — sometimes "under supervision", but often "on their own recognizance" — sometimes even in the case of very severe crimes, including shootings and packing a gun illegally. Supposedly these suspects are to show up later for a trial, but there is often no imperative to do that, other than a judge's admonition — and (gasp) some don't show. Some even go right out and do once again whatever it was they'd done that got them arrested in the first place.

Judges may point out that there are state-imposed restrictions on jail conditions, and "overcrowding" is one of them, so they feel they must release offenders whenever they can. The problem with this is that, as a result, offenders see no downside to offending; the criminal justice system is toothless, as far as they can tell, and their behavior continues unmodified. Of course, if release really does seem necessary, there is the option of requiring bail — which is assumed to impose some obligation to avoid forfeiting bail.

But, routinely, we see judges hereabouts set bail — and then release the suspect without requiring that the bail be paid! And, as for release "under supervision" — sometimes it is hard to see how any supervision can actually take place. Recently THE BEE carried a story about a man who apparently was living along the Springwater Trail and broke into a nearby business and stole things, and was caught in the act — but then was released "under supervision" by the judge until a trial. But how can you "supervise" someone with no known address — or even simply find him again?

Judges are also aware that the number of public defenders to assign to those being arrested for crimes is currently inadequate to meet the need. Since judges are, themselves, former attorneys, they may want to reduce the backlog of prosecutions as much as possible to keep from overburdening the available public defenders.

The upshot of all this is that the one individual in this crazy dance who is NOT spared in any form from the consequences of all the criminal acts being committed hereabouts these days is — the victim!

Is your car stolen and trashed, or parted-out in pieces, by criminals? Too bad; you're out of luck being made whole, and if you buy a new car they may steal that one. And, if you're crashed into by a thief in a stolen car — or just by a drunk in his own car — again, too bad. Buy another car at your own expense. Shot by someone? Same thing.

So, acknowledging all the infrastructure problems that do need addressing, we still respectfully suggest that our city and our legislators should really start finding solutions to reduce the number of victims — and the number of crimes. (It has been pointed out that the largest number of crimes are committed by a relatively small circle of people who commit them over and over.)

To have fewer victims, there needs to be a system that strongly discourages and penalizes criminal behavior — starting with ending the current perception that "crime actually does pay; you can get away with almost anything in Portland." There need to be real consequences for depriving victims of their rights as a member of society — just as their used to be!

Penalties of all sorts can only work if those breaking the law are convinced there is a high price to be paid if they get caught. At the moment, that price seems, to many offenders, to be marked down to almost nothing. Clearly a return to justice is what the majority of Portland residents are calling for, and it's what they deserve. Let's give the matter some thought, and see what we might do to begin to restore justice, and some assurance of freedom from crime, to this beautiful Rose City.


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