Target Has Been Complaining to City Officials About Crime at Shuttered Stores for Over a Year

“We recently had an individual in one of our stores that was peeling off his face with pliers in the bathroom.”

Target shoppers in downtown Portland. (Alex Wittwer)

Last month, Target abruptly announced it would soon shutter three of its Portland locations for good. The company cited threats to employee safety and organized retail crime as reasons for the closures, which begin Saturday.

Emails obtained by WW sent from Target executives to Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office offer more details about Target’s concerns, and also provide insight into apparently unsuccessful efforts by officials inside Wheeler’s office to appease those concerns.

In May 2022, Skylar Brocker-Knapp, a top policy adviser in the mayor’s office, met with senior Target executives at the company’s new store in Hollywood, which had just opened a year earlier. In preparation for the meeting, Target’s government affairs director Kent Wilson forwarded Brocker-Knapp a letter from the store’s director, Brittany Munoz, providing “added context.”

The litany of concerns laid out in the letter might sound familiar. The store’s rear wall was repeatedly vandalized with graffiti, which would reappear within hours of being painted over. Drug paraphernalia and needles littered the parking lot. A nearby homeless encampment kept popping back up after being targeted by intermittent city sweeps.

“We have seen many repeat offenders with multiple police report cases filed who continue to roam the streets and come into our store daily to steal without fear of being reprimanded,” wrote Munoz, who included a list: five harassment cases, 30 cases of disorderly conduct, and one assault.

The assault described in the letter occurred in January: a 19-year-old employee was shoved by a thief who’d snuck into a backroom to steal electronics. Months later, police still hadn’t solved the case even though the suspect “is still seen in my building,” Munoz wrote.

“A number of times when we have called law enforcement for support on these issues, we have received long wait times to speak to a dispatcher, as well as long response times waiting for police or no police response at all,” she wrote.

She noted the 19-year-old was a college student who quit immediately following the assault. “This has also impacted the retention of our team and our ability to staff,” she added.

A spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau was unable to immediately offer more information about the incident.

The subsequent meeting between Brocker-Knapp and Target executives went well. “Everyone was so thankful for the work that you’re doing, and they loved having you visit the store,” Wilson told Brocker-Knapp.

Over the following year, the relationship between the mayor’s office and Target appeared to warm.

The mayor’s director of economic development, Andrew Fitzpatrick, wrote Wilson in August to see if there was anything Target could do to “address EBT conversion to cash for the purchase of illicit drugs.” In other words, the purchase of bottled water or similar products with government food vouchers for the purpose of redeeming the containers for cash.

“It may help reduce the overall incidence of crime in the vicinity,” Fitzpatrick wrote. Wilson responded that he was happy to help, and could introduce the mayor’s office to other retailers like Walgreens and CVS.

The correspondence culminated in a pair of meetings between high-level Portland officials and top Target executives.

Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Mike Frome had an “in-person meeting” with Target’s director of public safety in February. And Wheeler himself met with top Target executives, including its vice president of asset protection, Oscar Arango, in the lobby of a Washington, D.C., Hilton during a national conference in January.

Wilson emailed Fitzpatrick to report that “Oscar was raving about Mayor Wheeler and how he was actually engaged.”

But problems were mounting. In June, Wilson reported further issues at the Hollywood store and Galleria location downtown, highlighting particularly “burglaries in storage rooms” and “awful issues with the bottle bill,” which requires the store to allow people to redeem bottles and cans for cash.

“We recently had an individual in one of our stores that was peeling off his face with pliers in the bathroom,” explained Wilson.

“The redemption situation at many retailers and grocers is incredibly frustrating,” Fitzpatrick acknowledged.

The next email communication, provided to WW by the mayor’s office in response to a public records request, came in late September, when Wilson gave Fitzpatrick a heads-up that Target was permanently closing the two stores—and one more on Southeast Powell Boulevard.

“News will be public at 12 pm your time,” Wilson wrote in a terse message Sept. 26.

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