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Portlanders want all parts of the city to feel safe.

Section Summary

When considering public safety in Portland, two different pictures emerge. One is of a safe, clean city, with people who generally respect each other and wish to live in peace. The other is of a city that is rapidly becoming less safe as drugs and gangs increase their influence and urban renewal projects shift attention away from basic concerns such as public safety. Currently, whether a person experiences the first of these realities or the second depends in large part on where he or she lives. Yet Portlanders do not believe this should be the case: they want all parts of the city to feel safe and secure, from Chinatown to East Portland to the city’s many MAX trains and bus stops. They want the city government to re-prioritize public safety and to commit to creating a highly trained police force that works collaboratively with community members to create a safe city for all to enjoy.

Note: This sections touches on some transportation-related safety concerns, which are also addressed in Transportation chapters such as Transportation: Public Transportation, Transportation: Bicycling, and Transportation: Walking/Pedestrian.

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Peace and safety go hand in hand.
  2. Public safety is a basic function of local government that must not be neglected.
  3. Portlanders want the city’s streets to feel safe.
  4. Safety on and around public transportation needs to improve.
  5. More can be done to prepare Portland for emergencies and disasters.


  1. Peace and safety go hand in hand.
  • A surprising number of people mentioned they love Portland because it is a peaceful city. They believe that the calmness and tranquility of the city contributes to reduced amounts of crime and violence.
  • Portlanders want to live in peace with each other and appreciate the “live and let live” attitude of many city residents.
  • At the same time, many Portlanders feel that excessive use of force and violence by the police undermines public safety.
  • Portlanders want to reduce violence throughout the city, including violence committed by law enforcement.
  • Many people firmly believe that safety comes about as a result of peaceful interactions and non-violent methods of conflict resolution, not aggressive or confrontational policing.
"[I value] the people and the climate. Portland has a great mix of people of variety of cultures and backgrounds all living together very peacefully. Only Oregonians truly understand the meaning of a sunny day.”

“Be a forerunner in examples of peaceful living and conflict resolution that decreases crime. Programs for youth that lead to productive adult citizenry and decrease in youth gangs.”

“[In the future] people are better educated. Everyone—from the upper class down to the middle class, even lower economic class—lives peacefully. Everyone treats each other with dignity.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Train all police officers in non-violent methods of conflict resolution and de-escalation.
  2. Embrace a community policing approach (see Public Safety: Community Policing).

  1. Public safety is a basic function of local government that must not be neglected.
  • Portlanders see upholding public safety as one of the basic functions of local government, along with creating and maintaining infrastructure and ensuring that all children have access to a good education.
  • Portlanders want to see more attention and funding devoted to achieving excellence in these basic areas and fewer resources devoted to projects that benefit only limited numbers of Portlanders (for more on this point, see Government: Spending).
  • Some Portlanders feel that public safety has been overlooked in recent years, resulting in the following negative consequences for the community:
    • A police force that lacks adequate training in key topics such as cultural diversity, mental illness and how to avoid using excessive force;
    • An increase in drug dealing and drug use, especially in public places;
    • Rising youth gang problems, particularly in rapidly-growing parts of Portland such as East Portland; and
    • A deterioration of trust and communication between police officers and community members.
"Focus on the basic needs of the people: protection (police), employment, transportation, and education.”

"Prioritize basic services the citizens of Portland want: safe neighborhoods, police funding, and corrections funding.”

“City Council [needs] to focus on the real needs of the city: roads, schools, police, fire, parks, transportation.”

“[I would like to see] a city that works. A gov’t that focuses on the traditional role of gov’t: roads, parks, police, fire, and zoning.”

  1. Portlanders want the city’s streets to feel safe.
  • For many Portlanders, “safe streets” are what make them feel safe in the city.
  • People want streets, especially neighborhood streets, to feel like pleasant, shared public places where all are safe (See Public Safety: Neighborhood Safety).
  • According to respondents, “safe streets” possess the following qualities:


    • Sidewalks are smooth and safe for all, including elders and people using wheelchairs;
    • Crosswalks are available and clearly marked;
    • Streets are well-lit at night; and
    • Streets that do not have pan-handlers, homeless people, or others sleeping on them or asking pedestrians for money.


  • Intersections are safe for cyclists as well as cars;
  • Bike lanes are available and well-connected to each other;
  • Cyclists do not have to ride between moving and parked cars; and
  • Portlanders want to see more accountability for bike riders and pedestrians who are killed by cars.


  • Neighborhood streets are safe for children to play on, without fear of speeding cars or unsafe people who might pose a threat to children’s safety;
  • Streets are completely free of gang activity; and
  • They are free of drug dealers and drug users.
“Recently things have deteriorated into more a more criminal atmosphere. I would like to live peacefully and not fear for my children while they are at school, be able to walk safely down the street at night, and park my car on the street without the threat of it being stolen.”

“I would like to be able to walk from the MAX to PSU or around the city core without being afraid, but I feel that panhandlers are becoming more aggressive. It is a deterrent to my wanting to walk.”

“More pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets! I live on NW Laidlaw just off NW Thompson and have NO sidewalks to take my 4 month old for a walk safely (these are busy streets). Most of the roads around our house lack even safe shoulders which is horrible!!”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Improve lighting in all sections of town.
  2. Improve walkways and curb cuts and add crosswalks, especially in older neighborhoods.
  3. Address vagrancy problems in and around the downtown entertainment district, Old Town and Waterfront Park.
  4. “Offer housing and social services to kids who have been abandoned by their families.”
  5. Halt aggression between motorists and cyclists through better education on sharing the road.
  6. Hold cyclists accountable for breaking traffic rules.
  7. Increase use of speed bumps for areas where high-risk drivers endanger those around them.
  8. Expand hours for public transportation until after bars and restaurants close to reduce drunk driving.

  1. Safety on and around public transportation needs to improve.
  • Overall, a very large number of Portlanders are highly supportive of the city’s public transportation system (See Transportation: Public Transportation).
  • However, many users of public transit are concerned about their safety, especially on the MAX and at bus and MAX stops.


  • People speak about witnessing drug dealing on the MAX.
  • Gang fights occasionally occur at MAX stops.
  • Some MAX riders are rude and/or verbally aggressive.
  • Many MAX stops lack safe parking lots for people who want to commute.

Bus System:

  • Many stops need better lighting in order to feel safe.
  • Some people perceive the busses as unsafe due to the people who ride them.
“Monitor behavior of riders on the MAX. Drug use, obscene language make for an uncomfortable, sometimes threatening, ride."

Sample Strategies:

  1. Educate individuals using public transportation in riding etiquette and safety.
  2. Provide greater security for those using public transportation through education of the public, police presence, cameras, etc.
  3. “Eliminate Fareless Square or put patrols on the MAX trains.”

  1. More can be done to prepare Portland for emergencies and disasters.
  • A small number of respondents believe that Portland needs to focus more on disaster preparedness, give that state and national support may not be available in the event of an emergency.
  • Portlanders would like the City to:
    • Help neighborhoods develop disaster preparedness plans;
    • Train neighborhood residents in emergency preparedness and organize them into emergency teams; and
    • Enlist the Fire Bureau to help citizens learn about emergency and disaster preparedness.
  • It is also important to improve the response time and professionalism of the 911 service, which some say is too slow and does not always handle calls appropriately.
  • Portlanders want a competent, adequately staffed 911 center that has the technology to find and help anyone who is in trouble.
“I would like for when I call 911, that the operators do not hang up on us, just because I live in NE Portland. I think that is a huge issue that needs to be fixed.”

“I would like for when I call 911, that the operators do not hang up on us, just because I live in NE Portland. I think that is a huge issue that needs to be fixed.”

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