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January 25th, 2006 Toby Van Fleet | News Stories
 

Reality Check

How do we know the mayor's plan made downtown any safer?

     
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IMAGE: CHAD CROWE
Last October, after summer shootings and a spike in complaints to City Hall about downtown safety, Mayor Tom Potter unveiled a plan designed to curb drug dealing, "aggressive panhandling," property crimes, drinking in public and prostitution.

Backed by the Portland Business Alliance, Portland police and Central City Concern, Potter said, "Within six months, I want to hear people saying, 'Downtown Portland just feels better now.'"

Potter's plan focused on the transit mall, Pioneer Courthouse Square and the South Park Blocks, and it included a 9 pm curfew every night for the South Park Blocks.

But now, past the midway point of that six-month plan, measurable proof of its effectiveness remains elusive. And while it's unclear whether more time will be any more illuminating, police this week announced that four more parks (the North Park Blocks, O'Bryant Square, Ira Keller Fountain Park and an unnamed park at Southwest 14th Avenue and Hall Street) will be "closed" after 9 pm to loiterers.

Business Alliance Vice President Mike Kuykendall says downtown residents and businesses are pleased with the results so far from the initial October plan.

Yet downtown crime, which Potter said back in October was already down 7 percent for the year, tapers seasonally anyway, as rain clears out the fair-weather crowd until late spring. Central Police Commander Dave Benson admits weather is a factor in the "precipitous drop" in public comment he's seen in the past three months.

As for "aggressive panhandling," it isn't even a charge on the books, so the "aggressive" part can be gauged only by changes in public input. Potter spokesman John Doussard says the flurry of downtown safety complaints has trickled down to "almost nothing now."

Richard Harris, executive director at the nonprofit Central City Concern, questions how to measure a curfew's success, given the lack of data, and calls its extension to other parks "a solution to fix something that's not a problem."

Benson says he doesn't have numbers but that "half of our job is related to whether people feel safe."

 
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