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My Meet-Up With Our Sheriff

I met Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese for coffee at Stomping Grounds this week to introduce myself and learn more about law enforcement in our city. It was a helpful and optimistic meeting and given all that’s going on – pandemic, election, protests – I’m grateful I got his time.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office took over for our police department in a merger in 2017. They now provide law enforcement services to us by contract, as they also do for Troutdale, Wood Village, and Maywood Park, Every day, Fairview has one or two deputies on patrol, depending on the time of day. Captain James Eriksen serves as our liaison and works out of Fairview City Hall.

Here is what I learned from Sheriff Reese:

- Fairview is, in his estimation, a very safe place. Violent and property crime rates are low and these rates have been relatively stable for a long time, he says.

- However, Sheriff Reese is concerned about the surge in gun violence seen in the City of Portland this year. This includes guns used in gang violence, suicide attempts, and in crimes like robbery. He said Portland’s decision to dissolve the Gun Violence Reduction Team has driven the jump in gun-related violence and crimes.

- Fairview residents will soon get to use a community crime dashboard on the department’s website. Along with everyone else in the county, we’ll be able to plug in our street address and see crime stats for our area. The new system is currently in beta testing and will launch in 2021.

This dashboard could be a game-changer for local conversations about crime. Right now, Fairview residents don’t have access to local crime statistics. Instead, they rely on their own experience, what they hear from neighbors, what they get from the news, and – most importantly – what they see on social media platforms like Facebook and Next Door.

Anecdotes are not evidence – and can stoke unnecessary fear. And I registered a lot of that as I made my rounds across the city during the campaign. On the city council, I’ll work to get more crime stats out to residents, including long-term trends, potential causes, as well as prevention advice, on a regular basis. In order to feel safe, people need facts.

There were a few things I liked about Sheriff Reese as we talked over coffee.

First, he believes law enforcement is as much about service as it is about safety.

“In the sheriff’s office, we have a foundation built on service,” he said. “We aim to be the Nordstrom of policing. Everyone is treated with dignity and respect – regardless of race, ethnicity, income – and everyone feels listened to. When people are treated well, you get better outcomes. If you’re answering a call, or making an arrest, and you treat people with respect, and they act safer. It reduces further victimization and violence.”

Second, I liked Sheriff Reese because he is open.

He is open to talking about the failures of law enforcement, including excessive use of force. He’s also open to talking about ways his department can do things differently to increase public safety, advance social justice, and save tax dollars. For example, to reduce the threat of COVID for inmates in county jails this year, the sheriff’s department significantly reduced the number of inmates in those jails. Capacity dropped 35 percent. This was achieved by making several changes, such as citing people, rather than jailing them, for certain misdemeanor charges or probation violations.

“If we can change the criminal justice system to get better outcomes,” he said, “I’m all for it.”

Sheriff Reese encouraged Fairview and officials from other East County cities to get involved in the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council, which coordinates criminal justice policy for the county, and could be a driver of equity and justice reform. Right now, the only representative from East County on the council is Gresham Police Chief Robin Sells. We need more seats at that important table.

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