Armed private security forces, hired by local businesses, are now patrolling Portland, Oregon’s, downtown to keep the peace amid a crime spree, following a Portland city government decision to slash police funding by $16 million.
According to local news sources, Portland, like most major cities, is suffering from a spike in crime. “Homicides in Portland increased from 28 in 2019 to 54 in 2020. Among cities similar in size to Portland, Seattle saw an increase from 34 to 53 homicides, in Minneapolis, a spike from 48 to 82, and Milwaukee saw homicides increase from 97 to 190 from 2019 to 2020, ” KGW reported earlier this summer.
Portland, the outlet added, is likely on track to see around a thousand homicides this year.
The city is also still reeling from an extended spate of demonstrations — a 100-day streak of protests that caused an estimated $23 million in damages, $2 million in damages to federal buildings in downtown Portland alone.
In response to the protests, which demanded that Portland “defund the police,” the city slashed law enforcement’s budget by $16 million, a move “which included stripping Portland of its Central Precinct Entertainment Detail. Nine officers used to be assigned to Portland’s nightlife scene, but now, only two officers patrol the area,” according to Fox News.
That central entertainment district has responded by hiring private security to fill the void, per Fox, particularly after dozens of officers departed the force, either by resignation or retirement. There are now around 120 fewer Portland police officers on the force than there were last summer. The Old Town entertainment area was recently the scene of a mass shooting that left seven people wounded.
“Private armed security outfits have been hired to patrol a popular section of Portland known for its bars and nightlife after the city slashed police funding and saw a year of violence in the area,” the outlet reported, citing Willamette Week. “The decreased police presence created what business owners describe as a public safety vacuum. Private security companies arrived with rifles, metal detector wands, and Kevlar vests.”
“[Portland’s] clubgoers are met by a heavily armed guard. He stands beneath the Hung Far Low sign, clad in a bulletproof vest and desert-tan tactical pants, with a 9 mm pistol strapped to his leg and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slung over his shoulder,” according to the Portland local outlet. “His name is Jean-Pierre LaFont. He’s a 45-year-old veteran who lives in Gresham. He says he did a tour of duty in Bosnia with the Navy SEALS. He’s 6 feet tall, wears black gloves outlined with white bones, and is delighted to talk about his work.”
“My job is to get you home safe,” LaFont told Willamette Week. “Unless you’re the perpetrator. The only way for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing. So I’m going to do something.”
LaFont, Willamette Week notes, works for “a private military contractor—the kind of firm that operates in war zones.” Instead of keeping the peace in foreign lands, though, LaFont and his group are keeping the peace in Portland’s Old Town district.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler recently said that he was fed up with the violence that has dogged the city since last year, but the change did little, it seems to impact violence.
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