This Week in the Mercury


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Police Stats Don't Make Case for Crime Spike at Old Town Tent Refuge

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 12:59 PM

As you might recall, the Portland Business Alliance sent a stern letter to Commissioner Dan Saltzman last week demanding that he dramatically step up efforts to oust Right 2 Dream Too, the successful tent refuge that's been operating at NW 4th and Burnside since October 2011.

The PBA, in making its case, listed two major concerns: a slew of code complaints (some people would rather not look at tents), but also "an increase in illegal activities in the area." The letter specifically accuses R2DToo of having "generated" both—directly contradicting anecdotal statements from residents, cops, and some neighbors that crime is down because of the camp.

The problem, though? The crime stats around R2DToo, comparing the 12 months before it opened to the 12 months after, don't actually prove the PBA right. The Mercury asked the police bureau to pull the numbers (PDF) after reporting on the PBA's letter.

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While crime did go up in a 1,000 foot radius around R2DToo, it also went up all throughout the police bureau's Central Precinct, which includes Old Town. Further, the increase around R2DToo was much smaller than that overall increase in Central Precinct, and some crimes—like aggravated assaults and robberies—actually bucked the trend for the precinct and went down.

Even that's not definitive, though. The area around R2DToo is part of a much larger Old Town/Chinatown ecosystem—an ecosystem that's earned an increased amount of scrutiny and police attention over the past year. Much of the neighborhood is in a drug-impact area, for instance, meaning foot patrols are up.

Sergeant Pete Simpson, the bureau's main spokesman, cautioned that the only way to tell which crimes were directly affiliated with R2DToo, and make blanket statements about an increase or decrease, is to read through hundreds of police reports.

Looking at the full package of numbers, Simpson said: "I don’t think it shows crime up or down in relation to R2D2."

Maybe the PBA has different or better numbers to back up their assertion? I emailed Megan Doern, the PBA's spokeswoman, with that question, and I'll update if and when I hear back.

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