At a neighborhood association meeting last Monday night, residents of St. Johns reacted angrily to news that Police Chief Rosie Sizer was considering closing down the North Precinct to save cash.
"The potential impact of closing North Precinct could have a dire effect on public safety in the geographically isolated neighborhoods of the far west peninsula," wrote Cornelius Swart, publisher of the St. Johns Sentinel, in an email to local residents the next morning, January 9. "Say no to the close."
The suggestion to close North Precinct—whose cops cover neighborhoods from the St. Johns Bridge, east to the I-5 freeway—was made at the chief's first annual budget session earlier that day, but it has also come up in previous years, prompting Swart to describe the precinct as "on the chopping block" in his communiqué. But by Thursday, January 11, the cops were backpedaling, issuing a press release saying Chief Sizer had reviewed the suggestion and decided against it.
Nevertheless, Police Public Information Officer Brian Schmautz says the bureau "is challenging itself and Portland residents to make meaningful long-term changes," which could see North Precinct assume a substantively different form by next year—possibly sharing command personnel with Northeast, or having its boundaries redrawn. Put another way: Unless Sizer is able to secure a massive budget increase for the police bureau from the mayor, Portland's neighborhoods could find themselves fighting over cops this spring. Sizer wants Portland residents to weigh in on the budget at public listening sessions on February 7 and 22, telling the Mercury this week she wants to "look at this collaboratively with the community."
At issue for the cops is an imbalance between North and East precinct, which is increasingly finding itself overstretched. North Precinct employs just 39 officers, along with 12 sergeants and 2 lieutenants, while East Precinct employs 95 officers and the same number of command staff, plus one extra lieutenant. While it might have more officers, East Precinct officers respond to 29 percent of Portland's calls for service, but North Precinct and Northeast Precinct combined account for just 30 percent, according to a police spokesperson. East Precinct also covers a much larger geographical area than the other precincts, taking in the Hollywood neighborhood and everything east of I-205.
North Precinct residents say their neighborhood continues to face crime problems and hate the idea of losing any of their precious police presence in a reshuffle.
"It's not true that no crime is happening in North Portland," says Christine Duffy of North Portland's Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association, in response to suggestions that North Precinct is overstaffed. "The cops' presence is key to attracting growth and business development, and new residents want to know their neighborhood is safe," she says.
Meanwhile, East Precincters are encouraged by the possibility of increased police staffing.
"It would be great to have more officers out here," says Carol Williams, president of the Parkrose Heights Neighborhood Association in East Portland. "The ones we have are doing a great job, but they're stretched too thin."
Williams is reluctant to take officers from elsewhere, however. "What we really need is more officers city-wide," she says.
Additional reporting by Erin LaCour.