Report: Gresham Police Blame District Attorney for “Confusing and Inefficient Dynamic”

“The findings of this report appear to be based on perception, not fact,” the DA’s spokeswoman responded.

FEELING BLUE: Gresham police hold the line against dueling protesters in 2020. (Sam Gehrke)

As Portland and its neighboring cities grapple with a surge in violent crime, police officers and prosecutors are pointing fingers at each other.

The frayed relationship is highlighted in a report commissioned last year by the city of Gresham. It was completed earlier this month and presented last week during a heated city council meeting as residents confronted Gresham’s leaders about a lack of police presence in the city.

The report offers a series of recommendations for improving the department, with a focus on staffing issues. The Gresham Police Department needs 16 more patrol officers, it argues. But it also describes a frayed relationship with the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office that is creating confusion and an “inefficient dynamic” within the department.

BerryDunn, the consulting firm that authored the report, surveyed Gresham cops and found a “great deal of frustration” with the DA that was contributing to a “poor relationship” between the two, typically allied, pillars of the criminal justice system: the cops who arrest suspects and the prosecutors who try to convict them.

“There is a broad and deep sentiment among both GPD patrol and investigations personnel that the District Attorney (DA) is choosing not to prosecute certain types of crimes,” the report notes.

The DA’s office sees it differently and argues that its data suggests otherwise. The DA’s spokeswoman, Elisabeth Shepard, sent WW data showing the issuance rate—the percentage of cases 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 perception, not fact,” Shepard said.

DA data Graph provided by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office

Still, the sentiment remains. Multnomah County DA 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.

The Oregon State Police withdrew from the city in anger. The cops who remained responded by arresting even more people, Schmidt told the Intercept.

The cops told the consultants that the DA is rejecting cases without giving sufficient reason. They say they don’t know which cases to prioritize because they’re unsure which cases prosecutors will ultimately choose to charge.

The DA’s data shows the issuance rate did fall during the pandemic, but the decline began before Mike Schmidt took office. “The lowest issuance rate for prosecution in the last four years was during the Underhill administration at the very beginning of the pandemic,” Shepard said, referring to former DA Rod Underhill, Schmidt’s predecessor. Her office presented this same data to the Gresham police in February, she added.

The report recommends the District Attorney’s Office and the Gresham Police Department work together to create a “standardized case review template” 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.

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