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Perceptions of Safety in Portland

Perceptions of Safety in Portland

Portland State University

Synopsis: Enhanced communication and partnerships with residents may help to improve residents' trust in law enforcement and increase community participation in public safety efforts.


Community Need

In order to develop better police-community relations and reduce crime, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) partnered with Portland State University in an effort to improve residents’ voice in public safety concerns. The King Neighborhood in Portland was chosen to solicit more input from residents after a gang-related shooting occurred there in 2015.


In October and November of 2015 all known households in the King neighborhood were mailed a letter inviting the adult occupants to participate in an online survey. The survey covered three main topics: First, residents were asked to identify their top public safety concerns and locate these concerns on a map of the King neighborhood. Second, residents were asked whether they supported or opposed various actions the city might take in responding to these issues. A third set of questions was asked to establish baseline measurements for PPB’s ongoing efforts to reduce the fear of crime and improve police-community relationships.


Primary Research Question(S)

According to residents, how can PPB better address public safety concerns in Portland’s King neighborhood?

Research Design

PPB analysts used city databases to identify 2,546 distinct household addresses in the King neighborhood. Each household was mailed a letter explaining the purpose of the project and requested that all adult occupants complete an anonymous online survey. People attending community meetings with PPB were also asked to take the survey. A total of 299 surveys were used for the analyses.


The study sample represented a small proportion of the estimated 5,019 adults living in the King neighborhood. The sample was also not representative of all residents in the neighborhood. According to 2010 Census figures, racial/ethnic minorities make up one quarter to one-half of the residents in King; however, very few minorities completed the present survey. Whites, people aged 35 to 54 years old, and people with children were overrepresented in the sample. Given the focus of improving police relationships with marginalized communities, the underrepresentation of minorities in the sample is concerning. Future attempts at surveying neighborhoods must find ways to improve the representation of communities of color.


Research Findings

Respondents to this survey demonstrated a high degree of agreement on the areas within the King neighborhood that have public safety concerns. This includes the area surrounding King School Park and the corridor surrounding NE MLK Jr. Boulevard.

People rated guns/gun crimes and gangs as the leading concerns for the King neighborhood. Residents expressed a strong desire to see more foot patrols by the police, while expressing far less support for efforts aimed at enforcing juvenile curfew ordinances.

Many respondents expressed concerns around traffic safety in the King neighborhood. There was broad support for efforts to improve street design and lighting. There was less support for increased traffic enforcement.

Among those residents expressing an opinion, only one quarter (28%) believed that communication was improving between police and residents in King. Similarly, just one in ten (13%) respondents perceived that trust between King’s residents and the police was improving.

Main Implications

Enhanced communication with residents may help to improve residents’ trust in law enforcement and increase community participation in public safety efforts. Researchers found support for community safety initiatives that expand involvement beyond law enforcement, particularly for programs that focus on juveniles. Governmental organizations like the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) and Multnomah County Community Corrections should be asked to explore new initiatives for the King neighborhood (e.g., trash/graffiti removal, offender re-entry services, job training etc.). Likewise, PPB and the city should expand partnerships in the King neighborhood with churches, mental health organizations, and youth service providers.


Henning, K. R., & Stewart, G. (2016). Perceptions Regarding Public Safety in Portland’s King Neighborhood.