As Portland and its neighboring cities grapple with an increase in violent crime, police and prosecutors are pointing fingers at each other.
The frayed relationship is highlighted in a report commissioned last year by the town of Gresham. It was completed earlier this month and presented to a stormy council meeting last week as residents confronted Gresham leaders over a lack of police presence in the town.
The report offers a series of recommendations for improving the department, with a focus on staffing issues. Gresham Police Department needs 16 more patrol officers, he argues. But he also describes a frayed relationship with the DA that creates confusion and an “ineffective dynamic” within the department.
BerryDunn, the consultancy that wrote the report, interviewed cops in Gresham and found “great frustration” with the prosecutor who was contributing to a “poor relationship” between two pillars, usually allies, of the criminal justice system: the cops who arrest suspects and the prosecutors who try to convict them.
“There is a broad and deep feeling among DPG patrols and investigative staff that the District Attorney (DA) chooses not to prosecute certain types of crimes,” the report notes.
The DA’s office sees it differently and argues that their data suggests otherwise. DA spokeswoman Elisabeth Shepard sent WW data showing the rate of issue, the percentage of cases that are brought to the DA by Gresham Police and ultimately charged, has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
The report’s findings “appear to be based on perceptions, not facts,” she said.
Yet the feeling remains. Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt was elected in 2020 on a progressive platform and his decision shortly after taking office to drop charges against hundreds of protesters infuriated police.
Oregon State Police withdrew from the city in anger. The cops who remained responded by arresting even more people, Schmidt told Intercept.
The cops told the consultants that the DA was rejecting the records without giving sufficient reason. They say they don’t know which cases to prioritize because they don’t know which cases prosecutors will ultimately choose to charge.
Data from the DA shows that the rate of issue fell during the pandemic, but the decline began before Mike Schmidt took office. “The lowest lawsuit issuance rate in the past four years was under the Underhill administration at the very start of the pandemic,” Shepard said, referring to former DA Rod Underhill, Schmidt’s predecessor. . Her office presented that same data to Gresham Police in February, she added.
The report recommends that the District Attorney’s Office and the Gresham Police Department work together to create a “standardized case review model” to improve communication. It’s unclear if this will be enough to mend the fractured relationship.
The Gresham Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.