This Week in the Mercury

Friday, March 29, 2013

Police Say Old Town's Weekend Street Closures are (Maybe) Working

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 4:36 PM

It's been three months since the city started closing the oft-chaotic corridors of Old Town's "entertainment district" on weekend nights.

Now—with the pilot phase set to end and a planned visit from Mayor Charlie Hales this weekend—the Portland Police Bureau is claiming success.

In a report [PDF] obtained by the Mercury, police say they've fielded more calls in the district (see map below), but ultimately dealt with less crime.

Compared to the first eight weeks of 2012, police saw about 31 percent more demand at times streets are now closed (between 10 pm and 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays), the report says. But cops actually chronicled around 30 percent less violations.

The reason, police suggest: Higher officer visibility.

"One officer described how she could see position [sic] herself in the middle of the street, see the entire area and intervene more quickly before volatile situations got out of control," the report says. "Officers also reported taking fewer calls regarding crimes and felt they were better able to exert control over the area by their mere presence (being highly visible and active as opposed to driving through the area or being lost in a crowded sidewalk)."

Assaults, disorderly conducts charges, larcenies and vandalism are all down, according to the report. Drunk driving and liquor law violations have seen upticks. There have been two robberies in the "entertainment district" during this year's closures.

The police department concedes its findings don't constitute scientific proof the model has worked—dealing, as they do, with a very small period of time—but notes "the numbers involved are consistent with the anecdotal experiences relayed by officers working in the area."

If you've been in this area on weekends, you know it hasn't yet blossomed as an "entertainment district" in the vein of the nearby stretch of SW Ankeny now permanently used as outside seating. Despite the road closures, bar patrons still largely stick to the sidewalk and even use crosswalks.

Bar owners and managers in the district have expressed cautious optimism, but tell the Mercury more needs to be done. Some hope, for instance, street seating or food carts might make their way into the zone if the project continues.

That's an "if" that might be settled in the near future. The 90-day pilot ends Saturday, the same night Hales plans to visit the district.

Police, by the way, say the closures don't require extra spending on their end, but the city does contract with a company to close the roads—a cost which could seem ripe for culling in a time of tough budget calls.

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