Poll: 82% of Portland area voters want more police

Even more say they don't feel safe walking around downtown Portland at night


By Zane Sparling
oregonlive.com

PORTLAND, Ore. — Increase the police.

That’s the message from a hefty majority of Portland-area voters, who said they want more police on the beat across the metro region, according to a poll commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Beth Nakamura

An eye-popping 82% of respondents in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties support higher levels of policing across the metro area, the poll of 600 likely voters shows. Two small slices — each just 6% — want officer levels to stay the same or decrease, while another 6% didn’t have an opinion, the poll shows. It was taken Oct. 5 through Monday.

A preference for more policing is highest in Clackamas County, at 90%, while 82% of Washington County respondents and 76% in Multnomah County back the idea.

In an interview, poll respondent Mary Beth Van Cleave of Portland said she was frustrated when police said they didn’t have the resources to respond to recent street races in her neighborhood in the Lloyd District.

But her answer comes with a caveat. She wants more police, but more mental health specialists, too, she said.

“I’m concerned that police too often pull their guns and shoot,” the 85-year-old said. “So I would say more police, better-trained police and more intervention specialists.”

Metrowide, support for increasing the presence of police showed no statistically significant differences across income, education, gender or ethnicity, although older respondents were more likely to support hiring more officers than younger ones. Among respondents ages 45 and older, 90% wanted more police, compared with 74% of those 18 to 29 and 70% of respondents 30 to 44.

A majority of respondents in the metro area said they consider downtown Portland dangerous.

whopping 84% said they wouldn’t feel safe walking around downtown Portland at night and 61% said they felt the same way during the day. In contrast, the percentage of metrowide respondents who said they felt safe or very safe in their own neighborhoods never dropped below 80%, regardless of the time of day.

Still, some 54% of metrowide voters say they want more policing in their own neighborhoods, while 36% are satisfied with the current staffing and 5% want the number of officers responding to calls in their neighborhood to drop.

Greg Beard, 37, told The Oregonian/OregonLive he wants more officers near where he lives in Gresham.

“This neighborhood is not that bad, but there’s stuff that goes on, especially in summertime,” Beard said. “I sit in my backyard at night and hear gunshots all over the place.”

Narrowing the results to just Portland voters, the polling shows that 76% of respondents approve of bolstering the Police Bureau, although only 57% believe their own neighborhood needs more patrols.

Like many Portlanders, poll respondent Tim Kerlin said he feels safe walking around his Hollywood District neighborhood, day or night. The 41-year-old ardently supports redirecting funding from the police to affordable housing or homeless services.

“They don’t stop break-ins, they don’t stop your car from being stolen. They’re not able to do anything about it, but file a report,” he said. “Even when they are there on time, they aren’t making things safer.”

Michael Bailey, 77, by contrast, said he recently purchased a can of pepper spray, citing a rising number of “suspicious characters” in the Hollywood District.

The former defense attorney spent most of his career on the other side of the courtroom from law enforcement.

“It sort of catches in my throat to say we need more cops,” he said. “But we do.”

The Oregonian/OregonLive’s metrowide polling, which was conducted by DHM Research, has a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points. Portland-specific results have a margin of error of +/- 5.7 percentage points.

— Zane Sparling; zsparling@oregonian.com; 503-319-7083; @pdxzane
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