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August 24th, 2005 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

Downtown shootings damage chief's stock at City Hall.

     
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One victim in the recent rash of shootings downtown has been invisible: Chief Derrick Foxworth, who's on the outs with Mayor Tom Potter.

Potter, in short, is pissed. The symbolism of some 60 cops saturating downtown in the short term after five shootings in four months runs exactly opposite of the platform that got Potter elected last November. Ad nauseam on the campaign trail, Potter said let's tackle problems at the front end, before they happen-let's return Portland to "community policing."

Well, the past few weeks have shown the absolute failure of Potter's campaign lingo to translate into reality. And no one is more conscious of that than Portland cops. As one officer put it, "If you went out and took a poll of officers asking, 'Is it different today than it was three years ago?' I don't know if anyone would say yes."

Sources close to City Hall say Potter, himself a police chief during the early 1990s, is frustrated by Foxworth's handling of the recent shootings-feeling that the chief's response was too little and too late. The mayor also thinks the bureau is not moving toward community policing, the amorphous buzz phrase that generally refers to cops getting out of their cars more often to work with neighborhoods.

The recent tension is significant because it comes on top of prior friction between the two men: In April, Foxworth disagreed with the mayor's stance that resulted in police pulling out of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force. And Potter was not pleased in March, when Foxworth proposed budget cuts to community-policing programs-the very ones dear to Potter's heart.

The tension has real-life implications for Portlanders and their police. Specifically, many City Hall observers expect Potter to use the recent shootings to make changes in the bureau.

If so, he won't need to look hard for a reason. WW has learned that staff at the Police Bureau's Central Precinct, which covers downtown, had been alarmed at the size and makeup of crowds there long before the last spate of shootings, and had requested additional bodies on a long-term basis to cope with the surging weekend scene.

It's unclear if the request fizzled at the level of Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson or at the chief's office itself. Benson says he had communicated the need for more bodies to Foxworth's No. 2, Assistant Chief Stan Grubbs, but says all precincts face the same problem given the bureau's loss of 150 positions in the past six years. "That discussion happened well before the shootings occurred," Benson says. "My whine is no louder or softer than the other precinct commanders'. We're all crying."

Foxworth defends the bureau's response, saying that as soon as the shootings occurred, cops started meeting with club owners, increased patrols and brought in other agencies. "Many times it is the behind-the-scenes strategies that make a bigger impact," Foxworth wrote on Tuesday, while he was on vacation. "But the bottom line," he added, is "the community needs to be involved-that means people in the corporate arena, faith communities, social services, and others need to step up and become involved in community-policing efforts citywide."

Potter also has his own critics, who note that his office lacks anybody who can reach out to the African-American community and, furthermore, that he has not yet attended a meeting of the gang task force set up-and religiously attended-by his predecessor, Vera Katz. (Having just taken office, the mayor "was busy with other things," says Potter spokesman John Doussard.)

But while both men can cite reasons, most of them budgetary, for not tackling Portland's continuing gang problem more aggressively, their inaction comes at a bad time. Because while shootings involving gang members happen every year, cops say this year is different because the shootings are primarily gang-related, between cliques wanting to harm each other. "For the first time in many years, a lot of the shootings are actually gang-related, like it was in the early '90s, with gangs feuding back and forth," says one cop.

Potter, for his part, said Tuesday the bureau still has a ways to go in engaging the community it polices. Asked whether Foxworth has been high-profile enough in those efforts, Potter says, "that part I'm still not sure about." And as for the changing nightlife scene downtown, "I would have preferred that it would have been responded to earlier. But I think they felt they didn't have the resources to respond," Potter says "They were aware of the problem. As for whether they responded quickly enough, I don't know whether I can give you a 'yes' or a 'no' on that."

 
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