PORTLAND, East. – Kevin Dahlgren chased the suspected thief for about a mile after seeing him pull away from an SUV in broad daylight, his camera rolling. But when he called 911, Dahlgren said the operator told him the police would not pursue the suspect because Dahlgren was not the victim.
“‘Obviously I wasn’t the victim, but I was literally standing there,'” Dahlgren, an addiction counselor who describes Portland’s homeless crisis on Twitter, he recalled telling the story to the sender last summer. “‘Why do you think the criminals are out there doing this? Because they know even if someone calls the police, the police aren’t going to show up.'”
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Crime in Portland rose for the third year in a row in 2022, according to police data, and district attorneys in neighboring counties say part of the problem is a lack of prosecutions — a problem that could spill over into the rest of the state.
“That disparity in prosecutions creates some public safety challenges because the crime isn’t just confined to a particular county based on geography,” said Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, who oversees the second-largest county. in the Portland area. “Criminals move from county to county. So if your neighbor isn’t taking care of business, it’s going to affect your home.”
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt prosecuted half of all misdemeanor theft cases brought to his office last year, according to data provided by a spokesman. At the same time, Portland business owners complained of repeated attacks by thieves and vandals. Property crime reports increased 11% compared to 2021, according to Portland Police Bureau data.
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Neighboring Portland Washington and Clackamas counties filed charges in 91% and 84% of misdemeanor theft cases, respectively, according to their district attorneys. In Washington County, Barton said about 90% of those charges lead to convictions.
Alleged criminals are aware of the discrepancy.
“If it was in Multnomah County, for example, you would have already been released,” a caller was recorded telling a Washington County inmate late last year.
The prisoner replied, “I know, I know. It’s because it’s Washington County.”
Kristin Olson, a trial attorney and native Portlander, said criminals feel like it’s a “free for all” in her city.
“We can’t prosecute misdemeanor crimes because that creates the decay of society, and creates a whole sense of lawlessness,” Olson said. “If we’re letting these people go left and right because we don’t believe in bail and we don’t believe in putting them in jail, they know they can commit these crimes with impunity. And we don’t feel safe. ”
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Schmidt, whose campaign received contributions from groups associated with liberal billionaire George Soros, took office at the height of the Portland 2020 protests. He soon announced a policy of presumptive refusal to prosecute the most common charges of rioting.
The office filed charges in 47% of all cases it received in 2020. That rate has been steadily increasing since then, hitting 60% in 2022. But at the same time, police have 43.5% less cases sent to Schmidt than they did i. 2019, according to data from the district attorney’s office.
“His hands are tied because of politics,” said Dahlgren of the local police. “If cops know he’s not going to be prosecuted, why are they going to waste their time on two hours of paperwork and drive him down only to release him an hour later?”
Schmidt declined an interview request from Fox News.
Barton said the justice system “needs to have a balance where we let the police do their job and encourage them to arrest people by prosecuting the people they arrest.”
In 2021, Washington County filed more criminal cases than Multnomah County, according to Oregon Department of Justice data. Clackamas County, which has about half the population, filed more misdemeanor charges than Multnomah County.
The prosecution is “critical” to deterring future crime and increasing viability, Clackamas County District attorney John Wentworth told Fox News.
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“If there isn’t some accountability, if there isn’t some action taken to deal with the trauma that happened, nothing gets better,” Wentworth said.
Barton doesn’t accept a tough-on-crime label, however, saying instead that he likes having a range of public safety tools available.
“We want to use the hammer when it’s the right tool to use, but we also have other tools,” he said. “Things like our drug court or our veterans treatment court or mental health court, where we can use a different tool than a hammer to try to achieve that same result of holding people accountable, promoting rehabilitation and the victims and keep the public safe.”