Portland Police, Experts Disagree On Addressing Violence

Portland is an odd place, even in the best of times. These ain’t the best of times.

Instead, on top of regular riots surrounding the federal courthouse, you’ve got a surge in violent crime like in many other large cities across the country. While protestors are demanding the city defund the police, officers are pointing out that defunding them is having an adverse effect on the public.

In particular, the disbanding of the Gun Violence Reduction Team

Unsurprisingly, a number of supposed “experts” are claiming otherwise.

“I’d say [people are] more emboldened, maybe, to be out with guns,” PPB Chief Chuck Lovell said at a press conference earlier this month. “They know there’s not someone watching. There’s no real deterrent there. And I think that’s part of the issue that’s causing us to see the spike we have in July.”

But local experts who study gun violence through the lenses of criminology, criminal justice, and public health say that argument is exaggerated at best, and deliberate politicization at worst. They say July’s homicide and shooting numbers likely were caused by a confluence of different factors—and that it’s far too soon to draw any hard conclusions from them.

Mark Leymon, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Portland State University (PSU), told the Mercury that there’s “absolutely no evidence” that the recent disbanding of GVRT contributed to July’s numbers. When asked what the likely cause was, Leymon cautioned it’s “too early to tell” whether July’s numbers qualify as a sustained spike in violent crime.But, he said, “The single most predictive measure of criminal activity is the economy.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused record unemployment numbers in Oregon—and as Brian Renauer, the director of PSU’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute, pointed out, economic anxiety was “already there” for Portlanders who never recovered from the 2008 Great Recession.

“It was already impacting certain areas and geographies of the city for a number of years,” Renauer said. “There are places and families that have never recovered from a prior economic crisis.”

I wouldn’t say there’s no evidence that it contributed. I’d agree that the evidence isn’t particularly strong, but much of that is because academics like Leymon haven’t actually studied what’s taking place.

Now, I’ll concede that economics tends to have an impact on gun violence, but Portland is also just one city. Violence is increasing all over the place and a lot of other cities have recovered from 2008, at least to some extent, and they’re seeing an influx in violence as well.

That tells me there’s more to it than the academics are saying.

Then again, colleges and universities tend to prefer to hire people with certain biases. Put frankly, they want leftist yes men to fill every slot they can, which means you have to look at anything coming out of these “experts” with a certain degree of skepticism.

Between academics and the people whose boots are on the ground, I’m inclined to listen to the cops on something like this. They’re in the field and see what’s going on. It’s not an abstract idea to them, so they’re damn sure worth listening to.

For academics, though, they’re just bits of data that can be manipulated or ignored, kind of like what’s happening here.