Highlights from Attorney General Lynch’s Six County Community Policing Tour: Part II

image by Nathan Yaffe and Joe Joseph, © Policing Project

image by Nathan Yaffe and Joe Joseph, © Policing Project

This post is the second in a series regarding Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s community policing tour: a six-stop visit to jurisdictions that emulate the pillars of community policing presented in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. You can find the first post in the series here, which discusses the motivation behind Lynch’s tour, as well as her February trip to Doral and Miami, FL.

Taking advantage of the positive momentum from her visit to Florida, Lynch traveled to the opposite end of the country on March 2 and 3 for her second stop in Portland, OR. According to Lynch, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has taken significant strides to champion efforts related to Pillar 4 of the final Task Force report: community policing and crime reduction.

How exactly has the PPB embodied this ideal of community policing? Despite significant issues with understaffing and limited financial resources, the PPB has remained committed to initiatives targeted at incorporating the voices of young people and the community in policing as a method of reducing crime.

Lynch began her visit by observing an example of such a youth-centered initiative taking place at George Middle School, where she sat in on a session conducted by PPB officer Mike Paresa as part of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program (GREAT). GREAT is a national educational movement grounded in a school-based, officer-instructed curriculum and adopted by the PPB in the ‘90s, aiming to foster positive relationships between officers and youth. Across the United States, GREAT has exhibited a 39 percent reduction in the odds of gang affiliation for students in their first year out of the program.

Beyond its commitment to youth, the PPB also has made efforts to create strong avenues of neighborhood engagement. According to news station KOIN 6, the PPB established a neighborhood commission including residents, business owners, and other stakeholders in order to improve the neighborhood of North Portland. The commission was successful, leading to a significant drop in crime rates in the area since its inception in 2006.

In addition to GREAT and the neighborhood commission, a quick look at the PPB website lists over 20 different programs aimed at community involvement, ranging from a lock security service for Senior Citizens to self-defense and violence prevention workshops for women. Lynch held a roundtable discussion at the Blazers Boys and Girls Club during her visit, at which she voiced approval for such initiatives.

While Lynch’s visit to Portland highlights these sustained breakthroughs in community policing, it also comes just four years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) noted a pattern of excessive force within the PPB against mentally ill residents. In response, the PPB revised its policies, required all officers to complete crisis intervention training, and selected a group of 100 officers to receive 40 hours of additional training as per a settlement with the Justice Department. A recent article in The New York Times praised the PPB for the widespread implementation of this reform. According to the article, the specific data regarding the PPB’s treatment of the mentally ill have proven difficult to track; however, overall allegations of excessive force by citizens declined by 74.2 percent from 2004 to 2014.

Although Lynch’s visit corresponds with a positive move forward for the PPB, former Police Chief Lawrence O’Dea told Oregon Public Broadcasting that there is much progress to be made in improving community relations. “This work doesn’t end for us with a positive report card from the Department of Justice,” he said. “It’s a journey, not a destination.”

Stay tuned for our next post in this series, which will explore Lynch’s visit to Indianapolis, IN, to highlight the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s work on officer safety and wellness, Pillar 6 of the community policing report.