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Portland Crime Problems: Data Helps Fight the Dangerous Trends

Monday, July 13, 2015


Multiple times per day, Portland’s Police Department sends out press releases like the one issued on Sunday, “North Precinct officers responded to a 'shots fired' call in the area of N.E. 72nd avenue and N.E. Killingsworth Street. Officers have responded to the scene and located at least one person in need of medical attention.”

This summer, concerns about gang violence have swept Portland, but a new collaboration between Portland Police and Portland State University may become a valuable tool in the effort to put the right law enforcement resources at the right time in the right place. Moreover, the data is available to the public.


Crime Down Gang Violence Up

“It is important to remember that a main reason for our partnership with PSU in creating that website was to show how much safer Portland has become in the last 20 years.  However, while violent crime has dropped overall, both domestic violence and gang violence remain endemic problems which require community-wide solutions,” Greg Stewart of the Portland Police Department told GoLocalPDX.com.

As GoLocalPDX reported in June, “The number of gang shootings has hit 73 to date, compared to 58 this time last year. Almost exclusively, the majority of the violence can be attributed to Blood and Crip gang associates.”

In general, well-maintained data has allowed the police to deploy resources in response or ahead of trends or spikes.

“Specific to the police, earlier this year the Mayor shifted resources to our gang team and we are using those to address gang violence specifically.  More broadly we have identified underserved areas with historically high levels of gang violence and within those areas identified specific locations which citizens call about repeatedly,” said Stewart.

The PSU and Portland Police Collaboration Unveils Surprises 

The data does unveil some significant findings that maybe significant surprises to many in the public -- and police. According to Dr. Kris Henning at Portland State University, while overall crime is down, there are four trends that need to be monitored.  Henning offered the following:

1. Bike theft is really the only crime that has risen over the past 10 years

2. Portland once had UCR crime rates in the top 25% of large cities - for most crimes we have not just dropped over time but our rates have dropped at a higher rate than most cities.

3. Crime in the eastern portion of the city, bordering Gresham, has not declined in recent years compared to most other areas of the city.

4. The NW hills in Portland have consistently had low levels of crime since 1995.

“We are establishing intermittent walking patrols, designed to focus on building relationships with community members in those areas.  We hope the combination of improved community police relationships and high visibility will both reduce violence overall and provide us with more opportunities to work on the specific problems in those areas which are resulting in the large number of citizen calls,” said Stewart.

How have the heat maps affected policing strategies?

“The heat maps are used operationally to broadly identify areas with high probabilities for a certain crime type and in the case of the PSU project as an educational tool,” said Stewart.

"Research has consistently demonstrated that within the large areas identified by the heat maps crime concentrates in much smaller regions (i.e. crime is not spread equally throughout the  hottest areas as the maps might imply).  For operation purposes we used much more focused mapping which breaks the areas in to grids as small as 250’ by 250’.  This allows us to identify specific locations with high crime or calls for service and focus more narrowly on those locations."


Related Slideshow: Crime Trends in Portland - Good News and Bad News

The Portland Police Bureau's Strategic Services Division and the Criminology and Criminal Justice program at Portland State University (PSU) have partnered to provide an interactive tool to provide a longer term look at crime trends.

The interactive data shows the geographic distribution of crime in the city; and reveals insights into crime data.

See key findings below.

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GOOD NEWS: Overall, the news in Portland is positive regarding incidents of vandalism, but the decline has not been as rapid as some other crimes.

Vandalism has remained relatively consistent for the past five years.


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GOOD NEWS: Domestic assaults saw significant decline in the late 1990s, but have been fairly consistent in the past five years.


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GOOD NEWS: The number of gun related crimes has seen the greatest declines of any of the tracked crime sectors. 

Gun related crimes decreased 80%.


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BAD NEWS: The theft bikes has seen an 83% increase. Some of this is tied to the increase in biking, but the crime has been the biggest blemish on the crime trends.


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GOOD NEWS: Street Robbery is down more than 25 years, but it has been fairly stagnant during the past five years.


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Non-Domestic Assaults

GOOD NEWS: The number of non-domestic assaults has remained relatively stagnant over the past five years.


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GOOD NEWS: Home breakins are down significantly, but like other categories (non-domestic assault and robbery) it has remained fairly constant during the past five years.

Over the 25 years residential robberies are down over 70%.



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