Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Portland is closing in on its 100th consecutive day of street violence. There is no end apparent on the viewable horizon, and Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, is becoming a little desperate. Enough so that she recently unveiled a plan to attempt to finally fulfill her principal duty, securing the safety of Portland’s citizens and their property.

A key element of that plan consists of having sheriff’s departments from neighboring counties send their deputies over to Portland to join in the fray now that federal reinforcements are gone. She and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler having sent them packing (oops.)

The brilliant plan contains something of a significant flaw, however; Gov. Brown failed to let those sheriff’s departments in on it.

The response from at least two sheriffs, Craig Roberts from Clackamas County, and Pat Garrett of Washington County, should not have been unexpected; no, they essentially said, we are not going to use our limited resources and risk our people to bail you out.

The official statements from both sheriffs, and one from the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), are instructive, and spell out for the hapless governor and mayor just what the problem is and how to go about solving it.

Sheriff Roberts’ statement probably said it best and is worth repeating: “Had Gov. Brown discussed her plan with my office, I would have told her it’s about changing policy not adding resources. Increasing law enforcement resources in Portland will not solve the nightly violence and now, murder. The only way to make Portland safe again is to support a policy that holds offenders accountable for their destruction and violence. That will require the DA to charge offenders appropriately and a decision by the Multnomah County presiding judge not to allow offenders released on their own recognizance, and instead require bail with conditions. The same offenders are arrested night after night, only to be released by the court and not charged with a crime by the DA’s office. The next night they are back at it, endangering the lives of law enforcement and the community all over again.” Just so.

Sheriff Garrett echoed his counterparts' sentiments. He acknowledged that he would provide indirect support as appropriate to the Portland Police Bureau, as cops are inclined to do for their beleaguered brothers and sisters, but, he pointed out, “the lack of political support for public safety, the uncertain legal landscape, the current volatility combined with intense scrutiny on use of force presents an unacceptable risk if deputies were deployed directly.”

The OACP reinforced the message in explaining to Gov. Brown just why cherry-picking officers from hither and yon was not going to be met with enthusiasm from other jurisdictions because “due to the lack of support for public safety operations, the associated liability to agencies who would be assisting in Portland and the lack of accountability for those arrested committing criminal acts, we cannot dedicate our limited resources away from the communities we serve.”  

The chiefs association capped and summarized the lesson this way: “Abandoning law enforcement or the need for policing is not working. It has only shown that it undermines the rule of law and puts our community at greater risk.”

That any law enforcement organization in the country would feel it circumstantially necessary to illustrate this to a sitting state governor comes close to compelling despair.

They continued helpfully, with a three-step plan of their own, suggestions of what the governor could perhaps do that would work: beginning with a) “a strong statement by elected leadership at all levels that criminal acts are not legitimate protest and that those who commit crimes will be held accountable”; b) detaining and prosecuting those arrested for street crimes, and c) issuing “publicly voiced support for law enforcement and its efforts to protect lawful protesters and hold criminal violators accountable in a very difficult environment.”

Again, not exactly esoteric nuggets pulled from the vault of obscure criminological theory, but given the actions of Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor all summer, the advice is positively Solomonic.

It is a lesson that Colorado’s leaders, and Denver’s, would be wise to take to heart. Denver has not reached Portland’s level of lawlessness but has had more than its share, and the violence continues to re-erupt periodically. And it will continue to do so as long as local politicians continue the enabling rhetoric; criminals are not prosecuted and jailed, and further legislative efforts to immobilize the police in the state are pursued.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and a recovering journalist based in Denver.

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