The City of Portland’s crime statistics reporting blackout

This summer in a Montavilla Facebook group, a neighbor posted that her neighbor near 78th and Burnside was burglarized earlier that morning. The thief got into the home through a basement window, she wrote, and a laptop computer was stolen.

Another neighbor commented that a house near 78th and Ash had their door kicked in and was burglarized. In another FB group, two buglaries near 78th and Burnside were reported, so I added that to the conversation.

Were there four burglaries? Were there two? Was there just one amplified by word of mouth and social media? There also could have been other burglaries nearby that were reported to the police, but not FB, or not reported at all. It doesn’t take long to burglarize a house and there’s not much to stop someone with bad intent from making multiple stops.

The neighbor who reported the first burglary said she was pretty shaken up by the burglary— even more so by the fact that it happened during the day. I imagine everyone who chimed in on the post with sympathies, tips, and questions were too. I know what it’s like to come home a door pried open; feeling the shock of being violated while being unsure if the burglar is still inside.

After processing all this, I remembered that there was a meeting on crime prevention in my building that same night, with Portland Police Bureau officers scheduled to attend.IMG_1605

I’ve been looking into neighborhood issues for a while, and one of the most perplexing problems is crime. Petty crime like thefts and burglary aren’t going to make the news (unless it’s dramatic), but it is a serious quality of life issue for those impacted.

I got a chance to talk to the officers before the meeting, most curious about keeping up with local crime reporting. I wanted to know: is there any way for the police or neighbors to track crime, any way to connect the dots with rashes of incidents like burglaries or thefts?

The officers were helpful, communicative, and seemed to understand my concern. But there was no formal system in place for the police to share that kind of information, the officer said, beyond the possibility of an informal verbal update between officers during shift change. He said they used to print and collate police reports taken during the shift, but that wasn’t done any more. The officers said, and repeated in the meeting, that they are completely busy with 9-1-1 call throughout their entire shift; and in between fit in cold and lower-priority calls. Screenshot 2016-05-29 at 11.45.28 PM

Crime statistics used to be reported monthly, but now CrimeMapper returns a (fairly cute, left) “404: File Not Found” page. It used to allow users to search crime within a half-mile radius of an address; and if I recall correctly it was updated monthly. The Portland sub-Reddit is not happy that it’s gone. One redditor said it helped them find a place to live, and another thinks the map was disabled to keep people from being scared to move to certain neighborhoods.

The Portland Oregon website also has CrimeStats, but the most current numbers are from April 2015. PSU partnered with PPB to analyze crime statistics, but its most current information is from 2013. Crimereports.com used to be a good way to track 9-1-1 calls (it was updated automatically) but it didn’t include non-emergency reports, reports made online, or if the caller was mistaken. (The example given is a neighbor who thinks fireworks is gunfire.) Crimereports quit populating data in late June of this year. 

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From what I’ve found, FB and Nextdoor are probably the best resources to share and find crime information. But not every post for a page you follow comes up in your feed (thanks FB), and with the volume and variety of posts on ND, it’s hard to stay engaged with the site.

So who is connecting the dots when it comes to petty crime? PPB leadership hopefully; but I have my doubts. We file police reports… for insurance? And a hope that neighborhoods with more action will get more police support.

Two years ago, vandals racked up 300 tire punctures before authorities they saw the pattern and reported it to the public. And last year, a Portland redditor wielding a mighty spreadsheet was the first to notice  a pattern of old Suburus being stolen. I’m not anti-police at all, and I know they are severely understaffed, but opening up that data could help the public help the police catch criminals.

May 1st there was an attempted break in in our building. I dutifully posted it on Nextdoor. A neighbor just a few blocks away was hit as well. The police nabbed someone breaking into another nearby building, she wrote, thinking all three incidents were related. What happened to the perp, and were the incidents connected? We’ll never know.

Two East Portland neighborhood association representatives have also noticed the lack of data. Benjamin Kerensa, vice president of the Montavilla Neighborhood Association, wrote that the impact of the statistics blackout is lack of transparency to the community and keeps neighbors from knowing what’s going on around them. img_2775

Kerensa said he was told by City officials the statistics would be up by end of the summer. He said he would like to see the statistics available again, and suggested I talk to the City’s Bureau of Technology Services for more information. But everything I found on their site seemed geared for other City bureaus rather than the public. I’ll share this story with Council members, and maybe they can offer some answers.

Portland Police Bureau releases press releases (if someone robs a store with a chainsaw it’s going get a press release), but after tracking Portland crime for a while (in both Richmond and Montavilla) before the blackout, the number of  weekly assaults, burglaries, robberies, and hit-and-runs is shocking.

The City’s new home for crime stats is here, but neither Kerensa or Robert Schultz, Lents NA
public safety chair, had seen it, and neither were happy with what was being released. Kerensa said it was messy, and the best Schultz could say is that it’s colorful. I couldn’t figure out much from it… each octagon is a grid where different categories of offenses are logged, but I didn’t see a way to figure out the date and time  of each incidents. It definitely wasn’t user friendly.

When asked about the impact of the lack of transparency with crime statistics, Schultz,  responded:

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Lack of City support has been a common theme for East Portland, seen most recently in the camps along the Springwater Corridor. And without good statistics, neighbors don’t have any evidence about crime trends, only speculation.

The neighbor who posted about the string of burglaries near 78th and Burnside didn’t have much faith in PPB. Calling the police created just “another burglary report filed away, never to be looked at again.” She suggested this was another reason to look out for each other, because right now it’s all we can really do.

 

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