Two years ago, Oregon’s crime rate was its lowest in 50 years. But last year, homicides in Portland hit an all-time high. The shots tripled. The state was ranked 8and– the worst in the country for property crimes.
I am often asked, “Why is crime so bad?” Why aren’t they you do something?”
Oregon’s House of Justice burns down and district attorneys are doing all they can to save victims while fighting off a fire that threatens us all. But when we grab our tools, they are gone.
Over the past three years, our public safety toolbox has been steadily plundered by our state’s leaders. The Oregon legislature, appeals courts, and governor blunted law enforcement’s ability to search cars and seize guns and drugs and freed more than 1,000 prisoners. The officers’ hands are tied; our hands are tied; the hands of the trial judges are tied. We are fighting a losing battle because we don’t have the tools to win.
The legislature just passed Senate Bill 1510, which prohibits police from stopping a car for a “lighting violation.” Serial killer Ted Bundy was captured for turning off his headlights at night. Do we really want to retire this tool?
With Senate Bill 1013, the legislature effectively ended the death penalty while making it harder to send a murderer to prison for life. Those who testified about this bill before lawmakers were warned not to say “rape” or “murder” because those words were too “traumatic”. Are we okay with giving the power to legislate justice for victims to those who can’t even hear the real experiences of those victims?
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Funded by interests outside the state, the Ballot Measure 110 campaign played on our compassion and decriminalized the possession of illicit drugs – meth, heroin and cocaine – for adults and children. He promised treatment instead of criminal charges for people struggling with addiction. Of the 1,826 people convicted of drug possession last year, only 19 sought treatment. And only a handful of others called a phone number to have their ticket dismissed. They are not required to do any treatment and no one checks.
The legislature sent the most violent juvenile offenders, who Oregon voters said should be tried as adults, to juvenile court and made them eligible for parole after 15 years. Under these new laws, Kip Kinkel, who murdered his parents and classmates in a school shooting, could have been paroled a decade ago. Lawmakers promised that this change would not be retroactive, but the governor made it anyway for hundreds of offenders.
Oregonians pay more per capita for public defense than all states except Massachusetts. Our public defenders’ annual budget is $47.5 million greater than all of the district attorneys’ budgets in all 36 counties combined. We fund 592 full-time defense attorneys for 429 prosecutors. Private lawyers make the disparity even worse.
Oregon’s public safety system is burning. Protecting victims of crime has never been more difficult, so saying enough is never more important.
Let’s tell our leaders to give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to put out the fire.
Paige Clarkson is the Marion County District Attorney. She was nominated in 2018 and elected in 2019. A graduate of Willamette University College of Law, Clarkson lives in South Salem with her husband and their four teenage children. You can reach her at [email protected]