PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland businesses say they’re at a breaking point as repeat break-ins make it harder to stay open — and they want city leaders to do more to stop it in its tracks.
KOIN 6 News is asking the tough questions of elected officials about their plans to respond to business owners as they feel their concerns aren’t being heard.
“It was like Mission: Impossible,” said Sami Hales, owner of House of Pipes and House of Vape. “They brought a bag full of goodies, machine razor cut, it was so quick like wow, I’m amazed at how they’re doing it.”
Caught on camera, burglars clad in all black were prepared as they broke into the NE Broadway House of Pipes this week. Owners say it even appears they used something to disarm the alarm system.
“They quickly went straight to the alarm and were able to turn it off really fast. We don’t know if they have a device or what they’re doing to get over that keypad and figure out what our codes are, but they used my code,” said district manager Brock Berg. “I’ve been with the company for eight years, I don’t share my code with anybody. I don’t know how they would have access to that. This isn’t even in my district anymore.”
The crooks stole a safe and products while destroying thousands of dollars in glass pipes and display cases. Hales has close to 20 locations around the Portland metro repeatedly seeing break-ins. Recently, someone even smashed a truck into a House of Vape location before running in to steal what they could.
City records show burglaries jumped in 2020 and continue to rise. The earliest records on the city’s dashboard show 3,904 burglaries reported in 2016. In 2022, that number hit a new high at 5,869. Hales and other businesses falling victim to repeat break-ins like Orox Leather and the Blue Diamond says with each incident, their insurance rates skyrocket, making it hard to even afford to recoup their lost revenue.
“In a smoke shop or a vape shop, insurance does not cover product,” said Hales. “Even if I don’t claim, they think I’m highly liable for that kind of stuff. In 2019, it was once in a year to happen. But after 2020 and ’21 and ’22, things are getting worse and worse in Portland.”
KOIN 6 brought some business concerns to new city commissioner Rene Gonzalez, saying many feel their concerns aren’t being heard. He says the city will need to shape new policies to work for the victims, first.
“We’ve got to center the victims in our criminal justice system. In recent years that’s fallen absent in the city, the county, and state. That means someone’s home broken into, their business broken into, they matter,” said Gonzalez. “I think we need to shape policy around that. There are other investments we’re collectively going to have to make in the city, county and state in the criminal justice system.”
Last week, KOIN 6 asked Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler what’s being done to help businesses.
“There are a couple of things that need to happen. First of all, if business owners and operators can have cameras, that makes it easier to identify individuals and being able to prosecute them,” said Wheeler. “Secondarily, we need to be informed when something happens and if there’s a way we can support a business after the fact, we want to do that.”
KOIN 6 followed up with some of the continued concerns, but the mayor was not available at this time for a follow-up interview. Some owners like Hales say cameras only go so far when many crooks have their faces covered and drive up without plates. They want more accountability-driven solutions from policymakers.
“If the mayor says cameras, we have 24 cameras, not even 12, we have 24 cameras. We have three doors, we have bars, we have two alarms, not one alarm. We have everything safety everything like that,” said Hales. “We need more support, and we need more police and we need more service.”
House of Pipes says the lost revenue and damages from this week’s break-in are still being totaled up, but estimates could be around $100,000 lost. While he plans to beef up security and add even more safety measures, it does not come cheap.