My view: Crime stats not as dire as often reported
To listen to some of the candidates for governor you might think that we're living in a hot bed of violent criminal activity. The reality of the crime picture in Oregon is much less dire than you might think. As a retired police officer, I know that we need both prevention and enforcement. Having spent the last four decades working on criminal justice issues has informed my understanding of these trends.
Look at the Portland Police Bureau's Crime Statistics Map for all offenses in the city by neighborhood. What you will see is that crime is not evenly distributed. Some areas have much lower offense rates than other areas do. Geography matters and to say Portland is completely dangerous or a mess is not accurate if we look at the data everyone relies on.
We know that Portland has struggled with violence, which has led to homicides. How has the rest of the state been affected? The 2021 FBI UCR Report just came out on Oct. 7. The Oregon Violent Crime Index (per 100,000 inhabitants) did increase from 320.9 to 358.8 but it was still below the national average.
Data from 2002 to 2021 shows that homicides in general in Oregon were always below the national average. Portland's average did not go above the national average until 2019. In 2020, Oregon was at 3.0 while Portland was at 8.8, according to the California Partnership for Safe Communities, that's somewhat above the national average of approximately 6.5. Again, those numbers are expressed as being per 100,000.
The news media often reports on these issues using percentages which might overstate the problem. The 2019 to 2021 data shows a 144% increase in homicides and a 241% increase in non-fatal shootings according to local TV news. However, the actual numbers are much less startling. Think of it this way, overall, 0.1% of Portland's population was involved in a homicide or shooting from 2019-21 in a city of over 650,000.
Any time a person is killed it is a terrible loss. However, we have proven methods of intervening that are neither heavy handed nor based on profiling. In terms of gun violence, we know reducing gang involvement is key. We must keep our kids from getting mixed up with violence in their communities.
In 2021 my colleagues and I worked to fund the East Metro Outreach, Prevention and Intervention program. The goal is to keep kids from becoming involved in gangs by investing in alternatives that divert them from such involvement and I know such programs exist in other parts of the city as well. These programs curtail violence by replacing gang life with more productive activities. It's been my experience that when young people engage in positive activities, they neither have time for, or are interested in lifestyles that can lead to gang involvement, while also improving relationships between the community and the public safety agencies that serve them.
State Sen. Chris Gorsek earned his PhD in urban studies from Portland State University, his master's in geography and bachelor's in political science from the University of Oregon. He is a former Portland Police Officer, he teaches criminal justice and geography at Mt. Hood Community College and geography at Portland State University. He lives in Gresham.
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