On a recent evening, Executive Director Suzanne Hayden tagged along with Officers Mike Hastings and Brad Yakots as they hit the streets on foot. Officers Hastings and Yakots are part of the walking patrol unit originally deployed as an experiment more than a year ago by then Central Commander Bob Day. Data collected shows a decrease in calls for service in the areas where the foot patrol is deployed. This tracks with national research on policing.
However, the walking beat is labor intensive and the officers cannot easily respond to 911 calls. Central Precinct has a set number of officers to cover the afternoon patrol district, eight of which are walking beat officers. This effectively reduces the number of officers able to respond to 911 calls. With a police bureau that is understaffed, according to a recent study, this type of effective policing strategy is difficult to sustain.
On this warm evening, Suzanne and the officers walked along the area near S.W. Third by some food carts. The officers spent time greeting individuals they knew by name, who were respectfully reminded about community expectations about garbage, loud music, panhandling in restricted sidewalk areas, and use of profanity in an area where families with small children were present. The interactions were polite and friendly.
They checked in with businesses, which traditionally made a lot of 911 calls. They asked about specific people who had caused problems in the past and introduced them to the Citizens Crime Commission. They asked if things were better this summer and businesses mentioned certain street youth who had taken a noticeable role in helping the police maintain the peace with peer-to-peer efforts.
After giving food and beer recommendations to several pedestrians, Suzanne and the officers drove over to Hawthorne Blvd. to check in with businesses. They checked in with 5 different businesses along Hawthorne where the officers were greeted with smiles and jokes. All the business owners and managers indicated this summer has been the best in many years, noting that they are not having problems with people abusing the tolerance of the community with rude and uncivil behavior. Community members approached the officers to discuss any problems they were experiencing and shared information. Many thanked them for their presence and for the crime fighter stickers!
The next stop was Waterfront Park, where the look and feel was much different. There were visible remnants of drug use including needles, baggies and orange needle caps. Some of the individuals they interacted with appeared under the influence of drugs. The officers recognized many individuals they had previously arrested.
During their stop at the park, the officers and Suzanne spoke with two brothers, ages 16 and nine, who were with their father. They had come to the park because it was near the family shelter they were staying in. The kids told the officers they had seen people using drugs near the Steel Bridge. They also visited with the fire fighters in front of the station on Naito Pkwy. that looks out onto the park at the Burnside Bridge. They are responding to heroin overdoses multiple times a day and had – within the hour – responded to someone who had collapsed from a drug overdose near the Portland Loo across the street from them.
At the end of the walk, Officers Hastings and Yakots felt very positive about their interactions with the community on their shift and felt their relationships with people living on the streets had helped them solve some high profile crimes. They had several examples of this. Despite this, they are still concerned about the lean staffing of the bureau. Just the other night they were called off their central walking patrols to cover high priority calls in N.E. Portland. This also occurred when there was a shooting in Laurelhurst Park at the same time as a crisis negotiation team call out in East Precinct and another shooting call. During that time, police were only able to respond to high priority calls throughout the city involving physical injury.
Read Suzanne’s testimony at city council on the Portland Police Bureau staffing study to learn more about the Citizens Crime Commission’s advocacy efforts.