DECISION 2022: Safety is a fundamental right
I received a phone call not long ago from a young woman. The call was unexpected, as was the question she asked, "Do you remember me?"
As the district attorney for Washington County, I have interacted with tens of thousands of people over the course of my career. I cannot honestly say that I remember each of them. But I absolutely did remember her.
The last time we had spoken was many years earlier during a difficult criminal trial. At that time, she was a 13-year-old victim and I was prosecuting a stepfather figure for horrific sexual crimes he had committed against her. During the trial, I stood in court and announced that she would be my next witness. But when I walked into the hallway to get her, she was gone.
What do you do when the key witness is suddenly missing at a pivotal moment during a trial? Without her testimony, despite how scared she might be, the case would be dismissed. My mind raced as I frantically searched the hallway while the judge and jury waited in the courtroom.
I eventually found her hiding in the bathroom, afraid to testify. No matter how much I reasoned and pleaded with her, she refused to budge. Finally, out of desperation, I gave her my hand and asked her to take it so we could walk into the courtroom together. Surprisingly, she did. She testified, her abuser was convicted, and we both moved on with our lives.
I continued to prosecute criminals and eventually was elected as District Attorney. She continued to grow up. And then, many years later, we reconnected with her phone call and her question, "Do you remember me?"
She called asking to interview me for a college assignment. We agreed to meet in person, and when the interview finished, we talked about that moment when she was hiding in the bathroom. I asked her what she was thinking when she changed her mind and took my hand. Her response was startling.
She told me that in that instant, she knew she had a choice to make. She could stay in the bathroom and feel safe that day, but be scared the rest of her life. Or, she could take my hand and feel scared that day, but be safe for the rest of her life.
Safety is a fundamental right. Unlike the rights to speech, religion or property, the right to safety is not explicitly listed in the Constitution. But it is every bit as important. Without safety, our society cannot function and other rights have no meaning.
Safety means being able to live, work, and raise a family without fear of crime. It is knowing that when a crime occurs, justice will follow. When you call the police, they will come. When they come, they will protect. And when they protect by making an arrest, the district attorney will prosecute the criminal to safeguard the victim and the community.
I am running for re-election as Washington County district attorney because these principles are under attack. My opponent is an extremist who has publicly called to defund the Washington County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office and to abolish Oregon's prison system. I believe this type of extremism will inevitably lead to chaos, as we have seen in Portland.
I am proud to report that Washington County is the safest large county in Oregon. Our crime rate is 30% below the state average and 50% below Multnomah County. However, the task of ensuring safety is more difficult today than perhaps any other time in modern history. Challenges from skyrocketing addiction, uncontrolled homelessness and rising crime are growing.
In neighboring Portland, crime is out of control. According to the Portland Police Bureau, there were over 1,300 shootings in Portland last year, compared to 414 in 2019. And car theft in Portland is so rampant that an average of 28 cars are stolen every day.
While it might be tempting to assume that Portland's problems will remain isolated, as the district attorney in the neighboring county, I can assure you that crime does not stop at the county line. Throughout Washington County, we are seeing increases in property and violent crime committed by Portland criminals coming into our community.
Despite these grim facts, I believe this is a struggle we can win. I frequently hear people wonder why someone doesn't do something. As your Washington County district attorney running for re-election, I am working with other public safety leaders to do all we can. But in our participatory system of government, where we share a common obligation to be informed and act, I need your help and support.
Just as that young victim who was hiding in the bathroom recognized the need to stand up for her safety, I believe our community must also stand together to ensure our safety. Please stand with me as I seek re-election to keep Washington County safe.
Kevin Barton is Washington County district attorney. He is currently running for a second term.
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