March 9th, 2005 G.b. Veerman, Philip Dawdy, David Walker | Special Section Stories





By the summer of 1986, Multnomah County Sheriff Fred Pearce knew something had to give.

With local crime rates at an all-time high, the county jail system Pearce managed was bursting at the seams, exceeding its 712-bed capacity by more than 200 inmates. Rows of jailbirds slept on mattresses in the 10th-floor gymnasium of the new Justice Center. But because he was under federal orders to set a cap on jail population, every night Pearce had to release dozens of minor-league crooks in a practice called "matrixing."

Some suspects didn't even make it into the Justice Center. At one point, sheriff's deputies rigged up a makeshift "no vacancy" signal on the wall of the courthouse jail. "If an officer had a suspect in custody, he'd drive by and look for the light," Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk recalled later. "If the red light was on, they couldn't admit any prisoners. If it was a green light, there was room."

But despite Pearce's badgering, county commissioners refused to build more jails.

Pearce had had enough. On the afternoon of July 9, 1986, he invited local reporters to show up at the Justice Center jail at 4 pm for a surprise photo op. He then let 66 inmates awaiting trial run out of the jail free. When the local TV news aired that night, the sight of gleeful no-goodniks racing out of jail triggered public outrage.

In other words, it worked perfectly. Soon, county commissioners were ready to fund a new lock-up:

the Inverness jail, which would open its doors in October 1988.

"Without what Fred did, there would not be the jail space we have today," said Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle in 1999. "It was the beginning of a solution. I think the county would have done little or nothing if it hadn't been for that."

Pearce's publicity stunt represented a turning point in an era obsessed by crime and punishment.

In the first half of the decade, voters had rejected a half-dozen bond measures for more jail and prison space, two in Multnomah County and four at the state level. But by 1986, Portland had seen a 50 percent jump in major crimes compared with the previous decade. Bombarded by headlines about crack, gangs and drive-by shootings, voters became convinced that crime was out of control.

"Crime was more of a hot button then, but you had drugs come into the mainstream," Schrunk said later. "You had the cry to clean up areas of town, get tough on drug offenders, lock up everybody who used them."

In his 1986 campaign for governor, Neil Goldschmidt tried to paint himself as more staunchly conservative on crime than his Republican opponent, Norma Paulus. "We did not want people to perceive Goldschmidt as namby-pamby on crime," pollster Tim Hibbitts, who helped run Goldschmidt's campaign, told WW. "It was an issue to voters. One of the things in the '80s we worried about was voter perception that [Democrats] are soft on crime."

That concern was validated in 1988 when George Bush tarred Michael Dukakis as a liberal softy with the infamous TV ads featuring convicted murderer Willie Horton.

"When voters responded to the nonsense Bush put Dukakis through, it sent a shockwave through politicians," Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten said. "They became scared. I think most politicians are really scared of [being labeled soft-on-crime]."

If the tough-on-crime strategy helped Goldschmidt get elected, it also dominated his tenure in office. As governor, Goldschmidt drew up a massive blueprint for prison construction that added five of the state's 13 lockups and expanded another.

By the turn of the century, crime rates had fallen dramatically on both local and national levels (see chart). Although sociologists, politicians and police still squabble over its causes, all acknowledge certain factors: a stronger economy, harsher sentences, more police on the streets and more emphasis on rehabilitation.

Ultimately, the '80s obsession with crime had deep political repercussions: It spurred a spate of tougher sentences, mandatory minimums, asset-forfeiture laws and the Procrustean "Three Strikes, You're Out." It put thousands of Oregonians behind bars. And it scared voters into spending millions on corrections while slashing funds for other programs.

But the ultimate legacy may be more psychological than political. People lock their doors at night. They see storefront graffiti and worry that gangs have invaded their neighborhood. About 10,000 Portlanders are licensed to carry concealed weapons. And when was the last time you picked up a hitchhiker?

Badge of Honor


New mayor Bud Clark figured he was doing the right thing when he appointed Penny Harrington as Portland's police chief in 1985. In her 21 years on Portland's police force, she and other women officers forced the justice system to take child abuse seriously, and Clark wanted to shake up a bureau that had been roiled by scandal and was historically antagonistic toward the city's minority communities.

Initially, the appointment was greeted with public acclaim. After all, she was the first woman ever appointed police chief in any major U.S. city and, as such, was profiled on national talk shows and named one of Ms. magazine's women of the year.

But Harrington was deeply resented inside the bureau. During her rise to chief, she'd angered union president Stan Peters and veteran officers by filing 42 sex-discrimination complaints-litigating her way to the top, as they saw it. The rank and file was not poised to march lockstep with her.

The grumbling grew louder when Harrington began making wholesale changes without consulting police commanders or beat officers. While crack cocaine began to find its way onto Portland streets, for example, she downsized the corrupt Drugs and Vice Division and put it under the supervision of the detectives department, a move that was poorly received by Portland cops. Nor were officers big fans of Harrington's push for community policing. Facing a 10 percent budget cut, Harrington was forced to lay off 40 officers, making her doubly unpopular.

Then, in 1986, rumors began circulating that Gary Harrington, her police-officer husband, had tipped off Bobby Lee, owner of Rickshaw Charlie's, about a pending heroin investigation, and the bureau launched an internal probe into the allegations. Trying to show the public that everything was above board, Mayor Clark took the unusual step of forming a special review commission to oversee the inquiry. Headed by former U.S. Attorney Sid Lezak, the commission operated with a broad mandate and issued a scathing 38-page report on the chief's management style, recommending her ouster. On June 2, Clark announced Harrington's resignation.

"Any chief would have taken heat for making changes," Harrington told WW years later. "But, because I was a woman, it was so much easier for them to get rid of me." Harrington currently lives in San Luis Obispo, California, where she recently launched a drive to set up a citizen oversight board for the sheriff's department.

While having a political neophyte as her presumed protector surely did not help Harrington's cause, former Clark administration figures say that Harrington should have managed her people better, that she was handed the opportunity of a lifetime and simply blew it.

Superheros of Milwaukie


In 1986, Marvel and DC ruled the comic-book industry with the iron fist of Dr. Doom. Earlier in the decade several independent companies had risen up, only to be squashed by the reigning giants. So when an upstart publisher set up shop in Portland with only two titles-Boris the Bear, a superhero spoof, and Dark Horse Presents, a black-and-white anthology-few imagined that Dark Horse Comics would do anything but quickly become a fading memory. But by going against industry standards (for one thing, it printed in black and white) and shying away from the conventional superhero genre, publisher Mike Richardson, editor Randy Stradley and some of brightest talents in the industry turned Dark Horse into a super-powered force.

Living up to its name, Dark Horse found success publishing books with now-legendary characters like the existential Concrete, the all-female asskickers the Heartbreakers, and Frank Miller's dense, hardboiled ode to noir, Sin City. Licensing deals, including comic-book versions of Star Wars, Aliens and Predator, helped the company grow and created a connection with Hollywood, ultimately leading to hit films based on Dark Horse comics like The Mask, Hellboy and the eagerly anticipated Sin City, due in theaters later this year.

* Multnomah County Commissioner Gordon Shadburne mails out a letter-on county stationery-to 50 churches in his district calling homosexuality "the stronghold of Satan." But before the year is out, Shadburne will resign from his position amid allegations of homosexual encounters, cocaine use and a "pile-on orgy."

* The screen goes dark for 2,000 Tektronix employees when the Beaverton oscilloscope maker announces another round of layoffs.

* A promising young filmmaker named Gus Van Sant releases his first film, Mala Noche.

* CHIERS! The acronym (Central City Concern Hooper Inebriate Emergency Response Service) may be tortured, but the idea is simple enough. A white van cruises the city streets and hauls drunks off to Hooper Detox-whether they like it or not. Over the next two decades, the CHIERS van will pick up more than 30,000 drunks off the streets.

* Aldo's Restaurant closes two months after one of its backers, Martin Allen Johnson, is busted with more than 10 pounds of cocaine. Police think the restaurant was being used to both market the drug and launder the proceeds. (Johnson will be sent to Death Row in 2001 for the murder of a 15-year-old girl.)

* Bob Koch, a conservative police lieutenant, upsets incumbent lefty Margaret Strachan for City Council. Strachan says Koch misled voters about her plans to impose street-maintenance fees. Campaign workers blame Strachan's out-of-style ponytail.

* The Reagan administration's hush-hush deal with Iran to trade weapons for hostages was supposed to be top-secret. So how come an obscure Lake Oswego property manager named Richard Brenneke knows all about it? Turns out Brenneke worked for the CIA and had a ringside seat to the biggest foreign-policy scandal of the decade.

* A strapping 25-year-old dancer named James Canfield becomes the new artistic director of Pacific Ballet Theatre.

* Clay animator Will Vinton wins raves with an advertising campaign featuring desiccated, lip-syncing grapes. The California Raisins' shrivel-chic proves so popular, CBS breathlessly adds on with the Saturday-morning California Raisin Show and prime-time spectaculars Meet the Raisins and The Raisins: Sold Out. Marvin Gaye enjoys a beyond-the-grave revival as tots everywhere jiggle to "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

* Portland brothers Arnold and Jacob Pander prove their famous painter dad, Henk, isn't the only one in the family who can wield a brush when they ink a deal with Comico, a Philadelphia publisher, to draw 12 issues of Grendel, a new comic book written by Matt Wagner.

* Billy Rancher, the blue-collar ruffian whose short life played out like a TV movie-signed to a major label, diagnosed with cancer twice, dropped by the label, fights back with deeper music, marries his sweetheart-loses his battle with cancer.


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