A North Peninsula Review reporter sat down with Lt. Chadd Stensgaard of the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct at his office at 449 NE Emerson to get his observations on reducing North Portland crime.
Stensgaard pointed to a staffing chart behind his desk showing lots of vacant shifts. “Our precinct covers everything from Kelley Point Park, to the Portland International Airport on the east and south to I-84—that’s 52 square miles.”
City policy makers intended North Precinct to have 132 officers, but it is now just 81. “It’s the worst understaffing I’ve seen in my 20-year career,” Stensgaard explained.
Meanwhile, the workload has increased. The annual volume of calls that North Precinct receives has grown from 88,165 to 91,471.
Stensgaard believes drug law changes and the rising homeless population are major factors. “It used to be when we responded to a fight an homeless camp, it [the fight] would be with knives,” he said. “Now, it’s often with guns.” One reason is more car owners are storing weapons in their cars, and homeless individuals who break into cars are taking the guns.
Shoplifting has become a huge problem. Some business owners are taking a hands-off approach because of the challenges in confronting and dealing with suspects, he said.
The lieutenant is optimistic that the city’s new Safe Rest Villages with addiction and mental health services is “a step in the right direction because it gives people some stability in their lives.”
Stensgaard said police understaffing might get worse before it gets better, but help is on the way, with 40 new hires in the pipeline who must wait until the slots open for them at the state police academy.
He also sees another hopeful development. The negative perceptions that some people in North Portland may have had about policing during the summer 2020 protests and riots in Portland have largely receded. “When I walk the St. Johns area” he smiled, “I get very positive feedback from people.”
Stensgaard attended the initial St. Johns Boosters-sponsored meeting in March, a heated affair with 40 business owners demanding action on soaring vandalism crimes. The meeting also included elected officials Mike Schmidt, Multnomah County District Attorney, and City Commissioners Carmen Rubio and Rene Gonzalez.
As a result of that meeting, Schmidt agreed in April to designate a prosecutor one day a week to focus on North Portland cases. The program is still being set up. The District Attorney’s office did not respond to an update request before the North Peninsula Review went to press.