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Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'll say it again

Isn't this more important than streetcars and free wi-fi?

Comments (23)

Answer: Yes.

Follow up question: Does the violent crime rate correlate positively or negatively with the presence (or absence) of streetcars and wifi?

All the City Council cares about any more are streetcars and wifi. Basic government services are crumbling. There's talk of closing a police precinct in North Portland for lack of funds. There's no money for gang intervention. I'd say that's quite a positive correlation.


What would you have them do with all the money they'd save. IMO, the problem lies with the inability of socioeconomic reality at the lower end of the scale to stand up to "popular culture" with it's attendant irresponsible surreality. How does society, through government, remedy that without treading perilously close to, or on, individual freedoms? Is it appropriate, or even possible for government to teach morality?

Society establishes agreed upon rules for behavior and codifies them as laws. One of government's basic functions is to enforce those laws. The success or failure of that process is at least measurable. To the degree that governments fail, or, especially, refuse to enforce laws, substituting "programs" designed to reduce or obviate the need for enforcement, it arrogates judgements and decisions more properly made by society.

The results of government social programs are unpredictable at best. Statistics lie and bureaucracies manipulate statistics. Government intervention in the socioeconomic area has proven to be a blunt instrument with unpredictable results. When it works at all, the problem must be narrowly defined (segregation, e.g.) and even then the process is protracted and uneven. Often, it's difficult to say whether government intervention changed societal values or whether society just changed.

The issues (problem behaviors and attitudes) you raise in Portland may be too entrenched, reinforced (by the pervasive media) and diffuse to be effectively addressed at the city government level.

Mainly, government's penchant for throwing money at problems, even problems that aren't within their purview, is alive and thriving at city hall. It sometimes seems success is measured by funding and staffing levels - not results.

Working smart is just antithetical to bureaucratic cultures in general.

Any money saved by the city should go back to the people and neighborhoods closest to the problem, with as few strings as possible. I doubt Sten or Potter have ever been homeless or poor; nor have Sam, Dan or Randy ever been an etnhic or racial minority. Imposing their "solutions" in this context is like the US imposing democracy in Iraq - they may mean well, but they'll f**k it up.

I wonder what your ideas are?

Rr: a good post. I agree with your "success is measured by funding and staffing levels-not results". Examine the poor auditing we have with most of our local government entities. For example, review the required annual PDC reports on URA performance-none. The list goes on.

I agree keeping money and the issues with the neighborhoods "closet to the problem" isn't practiced enough. Trams, streetcars, and free wi-fi is not taking care of the task of simply running this city smoothly. We also need enforcement of our existing laws which is a part of attempting to reduce the social problems we have.

I forgot to mention in regards to "funding levels". The annual report on social services-taxpayer spending locally in the past year approached $82MILLION. (correct me if I am wrong, because my memory could be wrong) As Commissioner Sten reported 600 people on just the transitional housing issue were served within this amount. Another blog discussed this diparity between numbers served and dollars spent. Are we getting value for money spent?

Are we getting value for money spent?

I think a little clarification of and specificity to Portland city government's goals would go a long way toward answering that question. If they never define success, they'll never be held accountable. Absent that, we'll never be able to determine the "bang for the buck" factor.

First, though, we (the taxpayers) should address the important but seldom-asked question of what are the relative values (not costs) of the ever-multiplying range of "services" that the city has taken on (or over). I don't doubt that all of them fill a need, I just question whether those needs are prioritized. If there was ever a place for civic involvement, this is it. If you ask me, that's city government's FIRST responsibilty - to make it as easy as possible for ordinary citizens to have direct influence on policy. Neighborhood associations and activists by definition have a narrow focus and unavoidably filter their input through a relative few citizens. However well-meaning and altruistic they may be, the fact is that the pool of people from whom those citizens come is very small. The investment of time, the level of education, the familiarity with "process" required to have any effect assure that. The sheer volume of "stuff" emanating from the council and bureaus and their staffs (staves?) is overwhelming - even for those who might be able and are inclined to try. The result is a de facto oligarchy. That's just a sad fact.

One of the factors that enables this sorry state of affairs to persist, indeed thrive, (witness the re-election of Jack's favorite poster boy, Opie) is the lack of any honest, fearless, wide-ranging media scrutiny. Instead, we have a sycophantic, elitist, out-of-state-owned enabler of a daily paper.

It's enough to make you want to kick someone.

If you live in an American city and begin to forget the location of those critical fault lines of race, class and power, it will not be too much longer before another young black body appears on the street as a marker. Here. Just as you remember.

On the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day we may consider that Dr. King did not undertake a cost-benefit analysis in order to understand the plight of the disenfranchised, nor did he insist upon adherence to an ideologically nuanced political or socioeconomic doctrine to guide human activity. Instead, he talked—relentlessly—about Love and Justice.

So many of the institutions we serve behave in selfish ways for selfish ends. But we need to remember that these institutions are made up of people, and if a people is mindful of a greater purpose, then their institutions cannot help but be moved in that direction. So I'm taking the day off tomorrow to think only about two things—Love and Justice—in the hope that when I return to work I will have some better marker for measuring our progress.

Speaking to rr's point, all the money in the world isn't going to stop some people from acting like idiots. But violent crime is down 19% over the past 12 years.

According to the Merc, the police said they're not going to close North, but try to redraw the precinct boundaries to better distribute police resources. To me, that makes sense - more sense than closing a precinct. Besides, North only has 11% of Type I crime now (as opposed to East Portland's 27%) - North needs to take on more territory to make it balanced.

You'd like more money for police. So would I. But there's no question there's less violent crime now than there used to be, even as the city has built streetcars and free wifi. Perhaps there would be even less crime if they hadn't built those things. But there's still less crime. Let's hope for continual improvement in the future.

Crime statistics? Fascinating. The fact is that gang activity, and particularly gang violence, has increased markedly in Portland in the past five years. And from all appearances, less is being done about it now than at any time since Bud Clark was mayor.

Sorry to go all data on you again, but your statement made me curious, so I looked up some data. I hope you and your readership will find it edifying.

This website: http://www.oregon.gov/OYA/jjis_data_eval_rpts.shtml

contains info, broken down by county, of all juveniles in the court system. To quote the website, "the JJIS Youth & Referrals report contains statewide and county-specific reports describing offenses committed by juveniles and the characteristics of the juveniles committing those offenses for the reporting year."

Here's the data for Multnomah County of all criminal referrals from the years 1998-2005:

Year - Number of referrals
1998 - 3,714
1999 - 3,422
2000 - 3,342
2001 - 2,953
2002 - 2,864
2003 - 2,753
2004 - 2,692
2005 - 2,761

Now, there has not been much progress since 2002, I grant you, but its more a leveling off than a spike. We'll see what the 2006 numbers show when they come out.

Also, there's this: http://www.cjcj.org/pubs/portland/portlandpr.html

"Between 1994 and 2000, the number of youth detentions dropped by half for all youth (from 1107 in 1994, to 478 in 2000), and by half for African American and Hispanic youth. During approximately the same period (from 1995 to 2000), the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes dropped 24%, and the number of juveniles arrested for property crimes dropped 40%. The total crime rate for youth dropped 26% during this period."

The data show the youth crime problem is also much better than it was. Granted, we can do better, but to say there isn't progress is to deny the data.

Thank you for your time.

Repeating Jack, "statistics". If you are like myself and most of my friends, reporting crimes in this metro area has gone down. Ten, twenty years ago we would report a tagging crime, car break=in, street fight, a drug deal, etc. Many citizens don't even bother because of the revolving door issue.

I had a car break-in, in progress, eight years ago and called the police. They weren't even going to come until my wife yelled out (while she is on the phone) "They (the robbers) have a gun!" as I raced down the stairs carrying a gun. Police were there in about 2 minutes. This is after our immediate streets had numerous break-ins and the police would respond a day or two later.

I am not blaming the police particularly, but this becomes a question of enforcement that I mentioned in the blog above. Where does policy begin? It begins with citizens telling our politicians our positions. Then the politicians and bureaucrats need to follow through. I think the public has been speaking clearly, but I am hearing mostly "trams, street cars, and free wi-fi.

Reported crime is not real crime. Ask around about what's happening with gangs in Portland. It's not "leveling off."

Re: "Morgan",

To paraphrase Monty Python...

First Bruce: Is your name not TJ?

TJ: No, it's Morgan.

Second Bruce: That's going to cause a little confusion.

Third Bruce: Mind if we call you "TJ" to keep it clear?

Jack, I am not quite clear on your last post. Apparently you are saying that "reported crimes" are not down. I didn't serously mean to infer that "reported crime" numbers were down, but responding to Morgan, and in my estimation why they may be down because of non-reporting. I interpreted his"criminal referrals" as meaning "reported crimes", which by his numbers seemed to indicate they had gone down. But I think you are more correct that it is not "leveling off".

I do not know how to interprete your "reported crime is not real crime". Does that mean "real crime" is only that which is prosecuted and judged a crime? For me, I tend to be a little more flexible on what constitutes crime. Graffiti on walls, even though very seldom prosecuted, is a crime to me. And this thinking applies to many white collar crimes like Emily Boyles, etc.

Not all crimes are reported. And so statistics of reported crimes are not statistics of all real crimes.

My solution is very strict handgun and assault rifle control legislation. It may take a few decades for the results to show because it will take a major attitude adjustment as well as long term gun buy back campaignns to get people to get rid of their guns in this country. Of course, we have the precious Second Amendment and the NRA standing in the way. Strict gun control laws in England are a prime example that stirct gun control laws can put a curb on gun homicide. It would be a very long and difficult road, but we have to start someplace.

Handguns should be banned anywhere the speed limit is less than 60. You want to play Gunsmoke? Head out to the country.


It's been illegal for minors and felons to have handguns and assault rifles for several decades already. What makes you think a few additional decades will make any difference?

Oregon has yet to see a single occurrence of a licensed concealed weapon permit holder committing a crime with their handgun. The good guys aren't the problem.

The bad guys with guns are the problem, and most of them have already demonstrated a willingess to break the law. New laws won't help: more enforcement and stricter sentencing will.

In the absence of "real crime" statistics, why don't we just use a poll of speculative crime estimates from blog readers to formulate and evaluate public policy? In fact, why even collect "data," when you have such a wealth of anecdotes? Seems like a waste of precious tax dollars.

You're right. There's no growing gang problem in Portland, and nothing more the city should do about it. I take it all back.

"Between 1994 and 2000,

Do you have the numbers for 1912? They're about as relevant.

I don't understand the sentiments being expressed in this thread of late. I wanted to get the recorded data out there for Jack and his readership to evalute, which includes trends back to the last dozen years or so (basically, back to when the previous mayor first took office).

Now, I agree the data are not the only factor to be considered. There's also unreported crime, as Jack points out, and there's also the perception of feeling unsafe, which can't tie into any recorded data but is nevertheless important for the political and social implications of policy. That's a discussion worth having, especially if we want to do more to end the types of killing Jack originally posted about.

But I thought the data made a good starting point for discussion. I'm sorry it seems to have gotten people upset. I'll try to be more considerate in the future.

Handguns should be banned anywhere the speed limit is less than 60. You want to play Gunsmoke? Head out to the country.

I have to ask, do you really think the gang bangers will obey that law? Do they obey concealed laws now? Do they obey any laws now?

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