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‘OUR CITY IS IN PERIL’: Portland business owners demand more action as criminals ‘wreak havoc’

Portland business owners are demanding officials do more to stop surging property crime. Their proposals? Prosecute criminals and put more cops on the streets.

Frustrated business owners are calling on city and county leaders to do more to combat rising property crime in Portland — and they have plenty of suggestions for where to start.

"A lot of the ‘professional criminals’ that are out there busting into businesses and wreaking havoc, truly, we need to catch those folks, and we do need to prosecute those folks," said Sarah Shaoul, a business coach and founder of the advocacy group Bricks Need Mortar.


Property crime in Portland rose 16% between January and October of this year compared to the same period in 2021, according to data from the Portland Police Bureau.

Shaoul acknowledged the shortage of public defenders in Multnomah County, which has resulted in hundreds of cases being dropped. But she said she's sick of the "opportunist criminals" brazenly vandalizing and burglarizing businesses.

"When somebody has been recorded on camera well over a dozen times backing their vehicle into a business, I think it's time we do something about that," she said.

Between the pandemic, riots, rising crime and the ever-present homeless crisis, entrepreneurs are fighting an uphill battle to stay in business, said Katherine Sealy, the owner of Event Cosmetics.

"Safety is a priority for everyone," she said. "And I think a lot of the surrounding areas … still feel unsafe to come downtown."


While Portland's historic social justice protests gave the city an anti-police reputation, Sealy, Shaoul and other business owners and residents said they'd like to see more law enforcement officers out and about.

"We'd like to see a greater police presence in protecting our small business of storefronts," Shaoul said. "And we'd like to see police showing up in a timely manner to these calls and these break-ins."

Police response times hit levels not seen in at least a decade, according to PPB data, with the average high-priority call waiting more than 20 minutes for a response in October. Medium-priority callers waited more than 51 minutes on average during the same month.

Many factors can influence response times, including travel time, the number of calls and staffing levels, which are slowly increasing, according to PPB.

"If the police aren't available, I think the city should be looking at other resources to help," Shaoul said. "We made a recommendation well over a year ago that we have patrols that are out shining lights on buildings."

Shaoul suggested the city use other departments for such patrols, like the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which performs street maintenance, parking enforcement and other services.

"Let's get them out there with big lights on the sides of their vehicles and let's get them driving around," she said. "A lot of it is just preventative. You know, just keeping the eyes on these businesses and keeping them from getting repeatedly broken into."

One clothing store permanently closed this year after suffering its 15th break-in, posting a note on its door reading, "Our city is in peril. Small businesses (and large) cannot sustain doing business, in our city’s current state. We have no protection, or recourse, against the criminal behavior that goes unpunished."

Sealy said she has seen many of her fellow business owners "close their doors forever" and hopes more won't have to follow suit in the new year.

"I think the city needs to partner with us to do that, to ensure that it's not just a one-sided effort," Sealy said.

To see the interview with Shaoul and Sealy, click here.

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