Veteran Portland Police Officer Questions Rail Transit.

COST Commentary: Portland light rail and street car systems have been strongly promoted by Portland elected leadership and Portland has been the model selected to emulate by many alternative transportation supporters in cities throughout the nation. There have been numerous studies and stories of the relationships of increased crime to rail transit systems. Below are recent letters to the editor, an opinion piece and a report, discussing related crime and costs, regarding the proposed street car from Portland to Lake Oswego, just south of Portland.

Numerous other cities have experience similar issues of increased crime and costs. Public safety and total costs have not recieved the appropriate level of evaluation and attention in considering rail transit in Auistin.

The streetcar is a bad idea for Lake Oswego, Oregon
Lake Oswego Review, To the Editor:

Citizens of Lake Oswego should think hard before bringing light rail to town. Ask yourself who would ride? How often and at what cost? Who are the winners if the streetcar becomes reality and who are the losers?

I’ve been a police officer for Portland for 24 years. For two years I was assigned to the TriMet Police Division. I’m well acquainted with crime associated with light rail. Make no mistake, if you bring the street car to town you bring MAX crime with it.

Criminals ride free and will find their way to Lake Oswego. If your life consisted of survival through crime wouldn’t you find Lake Oswego attractive? Your city will become a new stomping ground for car prowlers, identity theft experts, drug dealers and others who currently don’t have a “free ride” to Lake Oswego.

Who are the big winners for the $358 million price tag? Construction companies and others involved in building the system, criminals and homeless needing a warm place to hang out.

The losers would be the citizens of Lake Oswego from both a tax and crime aspect. Some have a hard time believing crime would increase as a result of access the street car would give criminals. Personally I have no doubt.

I don’t live in Lake Oswego but have friends who do. For their sake and yours, don’t bring the streetcar to your city.

Mike Stradley

Will a streetcar bring more crime?
Lake Oswego Review, To the Editor:

Ask the question above of police officers from Portland and surrounding communities, and watch for their initial knowing smiles. Many will answer the question directly. This is what I have learned.

It is official Portland Police policy that no uniformed (armed) Portland Police Officer travel alone anywhere on the TriMet system. It is too dangerous for them. Portland gangs currently primarily use all modes of public transportation for their activities. TriMet has both undercover and uniformed armed security.

The streetcar will have no assigned police coverage. 9-1-1 will be the only source for help. How will you describe where you are to the 9-1-1 operator?

The previously published increased crime rate at Clackamas Town Center will happen here because like the town center, Lake Oswego is a source of profit. We have high value identity to steal, a vulnerable youth that buys drugs (and we have) nice cars and nice houses. Be clear, we are a market. The increased cost of crime will add to the expense, and we will pay for this. Indigents will ride the car back and forth in cold and wet weather to stay warm and dry.

It is naïve to conclude that a safe economical streetcar that builds the business and image of Lake Oswego is possible. The streetcar is a mistake, and we will regret it. Face the facts. Stop the streetcar. There are better options.

I am a Lake Oswego resident and live away from the proposed streetcar line.

Crime in the MAX corridor?
Police agencies disagree on what Lake Oswego’s streetcar may generate
By Rebecca Randall

The Lake Oswego Review, Sep 30, 2010, Updated Oct 4, 2010

Rising crime at the Clackamas Town Center – the last stop on TriMet’s MAX Green Line – as reported by Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts has gotten a lot of attention in recent discussions regarding the planning for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit project, which has proposed a streetcar as one of three options.

The two other options are enhanced bus or no build. Interpretations of the crime statistics range from viewing the rise as a serious problem to explaining the rise as the result of increased population.

The issue was discussed at the Sept. 20 citizen advisory committee meeting for the transit project.

Reported crimes at Clackamas Town Center rose from 503 from January to June 2009 (when there was no MAX line) to 745 from January to June 2010 – a change of 48.1 percent. If reported crime that took place at transit locations such as trains, buses, the platform, parking structure and the bus stop is not included, crime rose about 35.6 percent.

Most noticeably, theft rose from 391 to 528 incidents, with shoplifting being the bulk of those incidents. However, there were eight assaults in 2009 and only two in 2010. Additionally, there were 30 reports of interfering with public transportation, but the Green Line MAX did not open until September 2009.

Jim Strovink, a public information officer for Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, told the Review that rising crime was inevitable but should have been met with adequate policing. Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office requested that the TriMet Transit Police Division provide 14 officers on the line and got only five.

“(Roberts) predicted correctly that we will see a spike in criminal activity,” said Strovink. “He’s not opposed to a line, but he cautioned everyone that if you are going to have a line then please provide adequate law enforcement to address the anticipated issues. They didn’t heed that.”

Specifically, shoplifting from J.C. Penney, which is adjacent to the Green Line, has risen dramatically, said Strovink.

One could blame the rise on the economy, he said, but crime isn’t rising in any other area that is covered by Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. In fact, in many cities, crime has dropped compared to last year following a nationwide trend.

Fair comparison?

Ellie McPeak, chairwoman of the CAC, argued that Clackamas Town Center isn’t a great comparison to downtown Lake Oswego.

Don Forman, interim chief of the Lake Oswego Police Department, agreed with McPeak.

“You’re comparing apples and oranges if you’re going to compare that area of Clackamas County,” Forman told the Review. “We don’t have a Clackamas Town Center in Lake Oswego.”

The comparison is also weak because Portland Streetcar is not TriMet light-rail, said Forman.

Additionally, it is important to take into account the demographics of riders of the streetcar, he said. “Our community sets the tone. Our residents care about what goes on in their community and they call us. And when they call, we respond.”

The city also has the ability to prosecute crimes at its municipal court, an ability many other jurisdictions do not have.

“I am confident in LO that we aren’t going to have any major issues at all with whatever option might be chosen. We’re safe,” said Forman.

Forman challenged the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office statistics in a number of ways. First, he asked, how many self-initiated activities the office has conducted to zero in on a specific type of crime. If for example, the office targeted drug use when it had not the previous year, a higher statistic would not be an indication that there is more drug use.

He also questioned whether or not Clackamas Town Center has beefed up mall security since the light-rail opened, which could be a factor in a higher number of shoplifting arrests. Additionally, more analysis is needed to see if shoplifters are arriving at the Town Center by car, MAX or other means. Also, have there been other changes at the town center that would affect the types of people who will frequent the mall?

What the future could look like

Though it has not be decided yet which agency would manage a new streetcar line to Lake Oswego if that option is selected, Mike Crebs, commander of Trimet’s transit police division, responded to concerns about the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office report at the Sept. 20 meeting. He emphasized that percentages can be deceiving.

“If you use percent … the numbers don’t have as much meaning,” said Crebs. “I think your crimes per capita will stay the same, but you might see a rise in total number. Bring more people to a particular area, there could be an increase in number of crimes but not necessarily per capita.”

Crebs works under the Portland Police Division but is contracted to TriMet. Currently, his division does not serve the Portland Streetcar, which operates separately from TriMet. Portland police has jurisdiction over the streetcar.

Crebs oversees 58 sworn employees from 16 different agencies. His annual budget is between $7 million and $8 million, and each officer costs about $100,000. If TriMet gave him more money he would hire more officers, he said.

The transit police ride buses and trains day in and day out. It is standard that platforms are a fare zone only, so if a person is standing on the platform without a ticket, the transit police can give him a warning or citation.

“We’re trying to deter crime by our mere presence,” said Crebs.

Some CAC members were concerned about neighborhood crime that could rise when riders get off the streetcar. Transit police are sworn officers in the state of Oregon so they can follow any unsavory character into the neighborhood if it seems necessary, Crebs said.

The night of the meeting, Crebs did not have with him any statistics on neighborhood crime in areas with light rail or streetcar.

Another way to deter crime is to create a design that will prevent crime, said Crebs.

Dennis Van Dyke, the director of operation support, described the process for ensuring that crime prevention and safety is a priority throughout the life of the project. There is typically a safety and security committee, which includes police and fire bureaus in addition to transit specialists, that provides feedback on the design from the very beginning. The committee continues to meet up to eight or nine months after a new route opens to be sure that there are no problems.

Some design elements that can be worked in to prevent crime include cameras, plenty of lighting and visible station locations.

CAC members also talked about the safety of pedestrians near the track. In some instances fences may be used, but project manager Doug Obletz said that the specifics of that type of design would be discussed with the community during the preliminary engineering, which would begin next year so long as the streetcar option is selected.

Another concern for residents in Dunthorpe was emergency vehicle access. Obletz explained that there will be preemption signals that police and fire can use to have priority access over the streetcar. The only caveat is that the streetcar has a certain braking distance, and only if the preemption signal is triggered early can the train stop in time to allow fire or police to get through.

Crebs understands Lake Oswego to be a community that will not tolerate any crime and commented that this characteristic can also be a deterrent to crime because watchful citizens are more likely to call the police when trouble does arise.

Strovink, who lives in Lake Oswego, sees the flip side of the coin. He stated this scenario: If you were a car thief, would you rather steal an automobile from the Oak Grove Fred Meyer in Milwaukie or downtown Lake Oswego, where you know there will be a Lexus?

“If you are going to have this mode of transportation, there will be an increase of foot traffic and you have to have additional law enforcement. Or you’ll be sitting in the same situation that we’re trying to contend with,” he said. “You better be aware of it. Don’t put your head in the sand. They are going to come out.”

Copyright 2010 Pamplin Media Group, 6605 S.E. Lake Road, Portland, OR 97222

Guest Opinion
Costs for the streetcar project can’t be justified in these timesBy Alice Schlenker

, Oct 28, 2010

Recently, supporters of a proposed Lake Oswego to Portland streetcar expressed an opinion in the Review that those opposed to a streetcar are nothing more than a “well-funded, well-organized and very vocal minority” of outsiders who are motivated only by their own personal gain and interests. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me share with you my concerns and those of many others in our community. The major concern about a streetcar is the tremendous cost for a risky project in this economy. These uncertain times call for belt tightening, not expanding the already lengthy list of projects on our plate. That plate needs to be contained, not inflated into an unmanageable banquet platter!

The current costs of necessary infrastructure upgrades for sewer and water are already affecting our citizens on fixed incomes. Additional bond measures are being discussed for a new public safety building and city hall (West End Building property) and a new library. How many of us will be able to support the increasing debt for projects we need plus the ones our city leaders want? We need to get back to basics and secure the long term financial health of our city. Not only is your city council ignoring current economic realities, they are seeking to further encumber your future with skyrocketing costs.

The number one responsibility of your elected leaders is public safety, yet they have eliminated a police officer and a fire marshal in the last two budgets. At the same time, a national lobbyist was hired with no tangible results. It is ridiculous for Lake Oswego to have its own lobbyist in Washington D.C. when we already pay the National League of Cities to do that work. What in the world is happening?

Do we want the change and “vision” Metro, Tri-Met and the developers have for our community? Some community leaders have indicated that they do support that vision and are working along with Metro, Tri-Met, developers and Portland Streetcar, Inc. to implement it. They are not looking out for us, but rather for their own “vision,” which is closer to that of downtown Portland. What about all the unanswered questions about the streetcar? The only answers we do have indicate huge costs, questionable funding sources, increased density and crime, with no improvement in the congestion on Highway 43. The latest cost estimate is $458 million and we have absolutely no idea how much of that will be Lake Oswego’s share.

Contrary to what others may say, this is not about giving up the rail right of way. Historically, we have kept the line open and should continue to do so. But never was it committed or intended to be a streetcar line tied to a high-density development. Lake Oswego has met its Metro-imposed density requirements. This does not mean there should be no development – we have accomplished wonderful redevelopment projects with our beautiful downtown and Foothills Park. But those were done in a prudent way in good economic times. Of course we will have responsible development in the future that will be appropriate and economically feasible at the right time.

Don’t buy all of the misinformation brought to you by the supporters of the streetcar. This is tipping point time. We can choose which way to go.

Alice Schlenker served as mayor of Lake Oswego from 1989 to 1996.

Comments are closed.

©2007 Coalition On Sustainable Transportation