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Portland citizens dissatisfied with city’s direction and public safety, police union poll reveals

Of those surveyed, 74% worry they will become crime victims, 90% are dissatisfied with the state of public safety and 71% said the city needs more officers

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Beth Nakamura/LC- Staff

By Noelle Crombie

PORTLAND — About two-thirds of Portland voters say the city is on “the wrong track” and more than half would leave if they could afford to, according to a new poll commissioned by the Portland police union.

Sixty-eight percent of people surveyed said the city is “losing what made it special,” with only about one in five voters saying the city’s best days lie ahead.

The results paint a picture of a largely downcast electorate preoccupied with crime, homelessness and drugs.

It is the latest poll this year to reveal a generally sour mood among residents over the city’s future and comes one day after Gov. Tina Kotek unveiled a plan to save a beleaguered downtown Portland.

The poll, paid for by the Portland Police Association, was conducted over five days this month by the Portland-based nonpartisan and independent pollster, DHM Research. The polling company routinely probes sentiment among Portland-area voters on a range of public policies.

The union’s poll involved 500 Portland registered voters who were asked about public safety and the Portland Police Accountability Commission, a group of twenty community members that drafted an accountability system for Portland police that included a new oversight board and a new investigatory and disciplinary system. The margin of error is 4.4%.

Portland police Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, president of the union, declined to say how much the organization spent on the poll.

According to the results, 74% worried they or their family members will become crime victims. An overwhelming number — nearly 90% — said they are dissatisfied with the state of public safety in Portland; 71% said the city needs more officers.

Nearly 80% of respondents said crime has increased, though Mayor Ted Wheeler said this week that crime across most categories has declined this year over last year. The city has seen 70 homicides so far this year; 101 people were killed last year.

The survey probed public sentiment regarding the Portland Accountability Commission. It included nearly a dozen questions about proposed changes to police oversight, with voters split on whether the initial proposal would make a difference in public safety.

In 2020, Portland voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure creating a police oversight board with greater powers to hold officers accountable. The proposal called for a civilian-run police oversight commission that would investigate all complaints of officer misconduct and impose discipline when appropriate.

The Portland City Council last month voted to accept a stripped down version that eliminated the commission’s ability to hold public investigative hearings and reduced the number of people who would serve on the commission from 33 to 21. The city’s version of the proposal placed three police representatives on a committee responsible for nominating commission members.

The union wants the City Council to refer the accountability measure back to voters.

“If they do not, then we will do everything we can to find the signatures to do it ourselves,” he said.

Schmautz said the City Council “went as far as they could legally to cut out the parts that were just, you know, not lawful, not based in due process and would expose the city to a lot of litigation.”

He said the commission’s funding, ability to impose discipline and rules around membership are enshrined in the city charter and changes require voter approval.

While the poll didn’t find strong support for repealing the accountability measure, it did show “robust support to go back to the voters” on the funding, membership and discipline issues.

The poll asked multiple questions that asked people to weigh the voter-approved proposal and an “alternative approach.” In each case, people preferred an alternate approach.

Fifty-seven percent said voters should have a chance to weigh in on a revised plan; 23% said they supported keeping it in its original form.

Schmautz said the poll shows voter sentiment has shifted since 2020. He said voters still want police accountability but the system that emerged “was not what people intended and the will of the voter matters.”

He compared the shift in voter perceptions around the police accountability proposal to Oregon’s controversial law decriminalizing minor drug possession.

“I mean, you look at Measure 110,” he said. “People definitely believe that addiction is a health issue and it should be treated as such, but they did not intend to have open air drug dealing and open air drug use paralyzing our city. So it’s important that we get these things right, and that we adjust once we see how things evolve.”

Seemab Hussaini , who served on the Police Accountability Commission , said the original measure won with “irrefutable” voter support. He said dialing back the commission’s proposal only preserves the status quo. He referred to the 2010 case of a Portland police captain who later won a settlement with the city after he was disciplined for nailed “memorial plaques” of five Nazi-era soldiers to a tree on Rocky Butte Park .

“So of course, a union who cannot hold even a Nazi police officer accountable will not like an accountability system that doesn’t include them investigating themselves,” Hussaini said.

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