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Community Policing in Portland

Community Policing in Portland


Synopsis: A non-rigorous evaluation found that despite problems with implementation, community policing met expected outcomes in areas such as incidence of crime, fear of crime, livability, and citizen satisfaction.


Community Need

Portland Police Bureau instituted community policing in 1989 and quickly gained national recognition for its efforts. In 1999, with the arrival of a new police chief, certain decisions and directives led the public to scrutinize the police department and question its commitment to community policing. Additionally, successful community policing requires sustained effort over time. After more than a decade of implementation, the time was right to examine whether community policing had lived up to its promise, if it been fully implemented in the community and within the Police Bureau, what impact community policing had on public safety and the perception of safety by community members, and other questions.


In 1989, Portland Mayor Bud Clark and the City Council passed two resolutions introducing community policing to Portland. Community policing is a philosophy that recognizes the shared responsibility of the police and community in making areas safer and more livable. It reflects the values of community participation, problem solving, officer involvement in decision-making, and police accountability. This report examines the implementation of community policing in Portland and concludes with a series of recommendations.


Primary Research Question(S)

The report describes community policing in Portland in great detail and discusses the following questions:

  1. Is community policing right for Portland?
  2. To what extent is the vision of community policing understood and articulated by stakeholders and community members?
  3. To what extent is community policing effectively implemented in Portland?
  4. Are current performance measures meaningful and effective?

Research Design

In order to present a snapshot of community policing as it existed in the last half of 2002, researchers analyzed factual information and witness testimony. To evaluate the outcomes of community policing (lower incidence of crime and fear of crime, increased neighborhood livability and citizen’s satisfaction, increased partnership with citizens, and increased officer initiative), researchers analyzed crime and crime response data, various citizen surveys, employee surveys, and County Progress Board benchmarks.


There were no rigorous evaluations of community and police partnerships. The report does not demonstrate that community policing was the cause of the outcomes, as it does not control for other variables and reasons for the outcomes.


Research Findings

Current state and challenges of implementing community policing:

  • There were mixed messages regarding the Chief of Police’s leadership to community policing and community policing was not consistently reinforced in various precincts.
  • Community members reported that police processes had become more bureaucratic and that there was no standardized way to solicit their input into police policy or practice.
  • Researchers found training of police officers to be one of the biggest weak links in implementing community policing because no concrete skills were being taught on the issue.
  • There were few financial or recognition incentives for police to use community policing, which was largely regarded as more work than traditional approaches.
  • The 2002 Portland Police Bureau survey found that employees believed both internal and external communication was inadequate. Crime prevention specialists were the link between the community and the departments. They oversaw neighborhood watch groups, facilitated discussion, and led crime prevention efforts.
  • Minorities were under-represented in the Police Bureau. Researchers stress the importance of minority representation as an integral element of community policing.

Expected outcomes of community policing:

  • Incidence of crime: From 1990 to 2001 the crime rate for Part I Person and Property crimes (such as murder, aggravated assault, arson, motor vehicle theft) had decreased significantly. Part 1 Person crime rates alone declined 47% from 1997-2001 and Part 1 Property crime rates declined 19%. Victimization rates, which include burglary and theft from vehicle, also declined, though not as dramatically.
  • Fear of crime: Portland residents also felt safer. From 1990-2002, the percentage of citizens who reported feeling safe walking in their neighborhood at night increased from 34% to 50%.
  • Neighborhood livability: Researchers looked at incidence of graffiti, complaints about drug houses, and citizen’s rating of physical conditions of their neighborhood as indicators of livability. The incidence of graffiti fell by 18% from 1995-1997. The number of drug house complaints dropped 39 percent from 1996 to 2000, but showed a 22 percent jump from 2000 to 2001. Finally, citizen’s rating of the physical condition of their neighborhood barely changed between 1994 and 2000.
  • Citizen’s satisfaction with police: citizen satisfaction from 1990 to 1998 showed a 22% improvement, then the rating declined 7% from 1998 to 2001.

Main Implications

Researchers found that although community policing was the accepted standard in Portland, implementation was faltering. There was widespread support for the concept but a lack of in-depth understanding and accountability for community policing since its inception. Community policing philosophy and skills must be infused throughout all levels of the agency and incorporated into training. Despite challenges in implementation, the expected outcomes of community policing were met, signaling this approach is a worthwhile effort.


City Club of Portland (Portland, Or.), “Community Policing in Portland” (2003). City Club of Portland. 518.