The parents did not hold anything back from Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt at an Oct. 9 Portsmouth Neighborhood Association forum.
“My son attends Rosa Parks Elementary School and already knows the difference between a ‘secured perimeter’ and a ‘lockdown’”, parent Sarah Messier told Schmidt “No eight-year-old should have to know that,” she declared. Several parents told similarly disturbing accounts to Schmidt and County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal at the Charles Jordan Community Center (CJCC) meeting.
That testimony underscored Schmidt’s announcing news that a long-awaited project to designate a prosecutor for North Portland cases has now officially begun.
That provided some comfort to the impassioned, respectful crowd of 30 people at CJCC, although many spoke of numerous underlying problems.
Awash in guns
“We need to take a multi-faceted approach” including the lack of public defenders to process criminal cases plus North Portland is “awash in guns,” Schmidt said. He laid part of that at the feet of Republican legislators in Salem who last spring killed an anti-gun violence bill to raise the age to buy most guns from 18 to 21 and other measures.
A Portsmouth parent told elected officials that “I’m a victim of gun violence myself and now my 14-year-old daughter has seen a shooting, and I’m scared to even let her go to basketball practice.” Another neighbor who lives near Portsmouth Avenue described how “I’ve lived here five years and count ten shootings and two murders.”
Schmidt responded that the new extra prosecution should help. Deputy District Attorney Aileen Santoyo has begun work two days a week covering the greater St. Johns and Eliot neighborhood areas (near the Overlook neighborhood). The St. Johns and Eliot territory boundaries will cover virtually all of North Portland. Santoyo will help business owners who’ve been hit by crimes affecting them and customers. The deputy DA will also provide victim rights advocacy including trauma processing and legal system navigation.
Santoyo will have fixed office hours in downtown St. Johns and Eliot. The project is called the MCDA Access Attorney Program, funded with a one-year pilot grant and already working in the Old Town, Rockwood and Hazelwood areas.
But the future of the program may depend on who is sitting in the district attorney’s chair after next year. Schmidt won the election as district attorney in 2020 and now faces a rough 2024 re-election campaign against Nathan Vasquez, a senior deputy prosecutor in the DA’s office, trying to unseat him.
When a North Peninsula Review reporter asked Schmidt if he will renew the one-year grant next year, he responded that he would ask the County Commissioners for more funding and try to make the neighborhood-focused prosecution “a permanent part of the district attorney’s office.”
Jayapal, who represents District 2 that covers most of North and Northeast Portland, told the audience of the County’s ongoing effort to direct more of its social services to reduce violence. However, she told the group, “I know hearing us say we’re doing prevention isn’t very satisfying—when you’re hearing gunshots.”
Jayapal announces $800,000 for St. Johns homeless services
The St. Johns Boosters and Venture Portland have been advocating that the County invest more social services toward the portion of the homeless population that’s affecting public safety in downtown St. Johns. Jayapal said that she’s obtained $800,000 to invest in homeless-related services in the County’s Health Center in the downtown at the corner of N. Lombard Street and New York Ave. She hopes services can begin by fall 2024.
Several neighbors concluded by telling Schmidt and Jayapal of out-of-control street racing that’s overwhelming neighborhoods in the upper reaches of North Portland. “It’s so lawless that many neighbors are throwing up their hands in frustration,” one resident said. Schmidt responded that the Portland Police Bureau is reactivating its traffic enforcement unit which will help. He also cited a new state law allowing his office to confiscate convicted street racers’ cars, and sell them. He explained that many street racers spend inordinate amounts of money customizing their cars. “Once the word gets to them that if you drive your car like that, you’ll no longer have a car—we should see progress,” he said.