Maywood Park’s safety threatened by County’s proposed cuts

While cuts to Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office may reduce jail space and curtail drug dealer busts – find out what a reduction in patrol services to the City of Maywood Park would mean to its citizens …

Outside the Multnomah County budget hearings, members of the Multnomah County Corrections Deputies Association voice their concerns about potential cuts to the public safety budget.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler convened the Public Safety Budget Forum on March 16, every seat in the Commissioner’s Boardroom was filled, and people were standing five deep in the back of the room.

Some citizens, like Erica Martin, a Sumner Neighborhood resident and AmeriCorps volunteer at Parkrose High School, were concerned about specific public safety programs on the chopping block. She told us she was advocating for the “Restorative Justice” at the meeting.

But for the City of Maywood Park’s Mayor, Mark Hardie, the stakes were much higher. Landlocked within Portland’s borders – located immediately northeast of the Interstate 205 and Interstate 84 junction – this small, residential community relies on the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for policing and crime control.

Moments before he addresses the forum, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler awaits his introduction.

Wheeler provides context for discussion
After noting the remarkable turnout for a budget meeting, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler began, “Here’s the context: This is a very challenging year. This is a difficult time for everyone in this room. Families are really struggling, trying to agree on how to make ends meet – how to pay the rent, make our payments, school payments. Government is also trying to make the bottom line work out.

“For Multnomah County, this is probably our toughest budget year ever. We are looking at approximately a $45 million budget shortfall over the next two years. On top of that we are looking at an additional $10 Million to $20 Million shortfall as result of State cuts.”

The Multnomah County Commissioner’s Boardroom was filled to overflowing as the Public Safety Budget Forum began.

Wheeler pointed out the obvious, saying all present were indicating their concern about public safety. “I want to assure you that this Board of County Commissioners shares that desire to have a safe public.”

But when it comes staving off cuts in the public safety budget, Wheeler stated flatly, “That is not an option. It’s not that helpful in terms of helping us balance our [budgetary] decisions. Where the real leadership comes is in terms of helping us prioritize.”

Wheeler itemized the County’s efforts to increase revenue, and noted that some services – such as library system funding, approved by a bond measure – take a portion of their budget. “In addition to public safety … we are statutorily required to provide services [such as] running elections, maintaining roads and bridge infrastructure, health services, and animal services.”

Mark Hardie, Mayor of the City of Maywood Park, listens to the presentations made by Chair Wheeler and county staff members.

Potential impacts to the City of Maywood Park
During this meeting, the county’s budget process was described in detail, the attendees were led through some budgeting exercises, and citizens had the opportunity to speak with county officials and commissioners.

After the forum, we asked Mark Hardie, Mayor of the City of Maywood Park, what he thought of the event. He told us that the meeting was nothing like anything he’d ever seen. “I felt like he was respectful of the process; it was a positive way to get everybody’s opinion.”

Hardie said the proposed cuts would be devastating to everyone in Multnomah County, not just to the citizens of Maywood Park.

“I can’t imagine losing the only drug team in the County – their Special Investigations Unit works up to 400 mid-level drug cases a year,” noted Hardie. “The proliferation of drug trafficking and crimes associated with it will only add to our troubles, and cause further deterioration to all of our neighborhoods.

“The cuts to the Warrant Strike Team,” he continued, “will leave an additional 100 felons loose on the street every year.

“And, taking away our Child Abuse Team affects the most vulnerable members of our society. Then, there is the loss of the Gang Task Force to be considered, and a reduction of jail beds. The cuts have no social boundaries; they affect the rich and the poor, and take away the one thing that everyone wants – to feel safe in their home.”

Peter Ozanne, the county’s chief depuity operating officer, refers to a chart given out that details Multnomah County’s role in the Public Safety system.

One of the most importing thoughts that Hardie said he took away from the meeting was that “No one part of the Public Safety System can stand alone. There is no need for jails if we don’t have prosecutors; there’s no need for prosecutors if we don’t have deputies to make arrests.”

Considering all safety options
In terms of what budget cuts mean to the residents of the City of Maywood Park – because Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Deputies patrol their streets – Hardie said, “We are, of course, very concerned about any cuts to Public Safety, and especially to the Sheriff’s Office.”

If Maywood Park’s level of service were reduced, Hardie said, “As a City, we would explore every possible option: From creating a gated community; to negotiating supplemental police contracts; to exercising our second amendment rights. The single most important job of government is keeping its citizens safe.”

In closing, we asked Hardie of he felt his concerns had been “heard”, or merely “listened to”.

“Only time will tell,” replied Hardie. “I do believe the Commissioners have been sincere in all of the conversations I have had with them.”

Leaders and residents of the City of Maywood Park – seen here lining up for their 2008 Annual July 4th Community Parade – wonder if their idyllic town will become the target of criminals if Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office patrols are reduced.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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