PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For Jessie Burke, the increased patrols in the Old Town Entertainment District are welcome but she doesn’t yet have any feedback on how it’s going.

“It’s pretty recent,” said Burke, who chairs the Old Town Community Association. “It’s only been since Thursday.”

This week Mayor Wheeler announced PPB would have a detail patrolling the Old Town Entertainment District and would close streets to make it easier and friendlier for pedestrians in the area. But that effort is nothing new, Burke told KOIN 6 News.

Jessie Burke owns the Society Hotel and is the chair of the Old Town Community Association in Portland, September 25, 2022 (KOIN)
Jessie Burke owns the Society Hotel and is the chair of the Old Town Community Association in Portland, September 25, 2022 (KOIN)

“I know they’ve just started with the base closure that we’ve had, honestly, the boundaries we’ve sort of created ourselves with our own permits. This boundary has existed for a long time. I think it’s been 12 years that it’s existed and during COVID it didn’t make it back to the agenda, so it just disappeared,” said Burke, who also owns the Society Hotel. “We’ve had this before and we’ve been volunteering to do the set up and closure ourselves with our own barricades. So right now it’s the same boundaries but it’s nice to have more people down here to help.”

Right now the city has yet to build on the permits and infrastructure she and other business owners previously put in out of sheer necessity.

KOIN 6 News did not see any of the enhanced lighting the city mentioned nor the metal bike racks used in the detail before the pandemic. The stanchions that were there were put out by business owners, not the city.

“We’re still working on the lighting issues. We’ve had some stumbles, just logistically and trying to get those,” PPB Sgt. Mike Francis said. “So, we’re just happy to be back out here and start it going now and we’ll work into it. We’re going to ease into this and we’re gonna walk, not run.”

Despite the lack of enhanced lighting and metal barricades, Francis — who led the detail in 2019 — said just staffing 6 officers on the entertainment detail was a victory amid the bureau’s ongoing staff shortages. The team is working to find their rhythm in the new roles, but he said he feels confident they have the right officers for this detail.

Most Portlanders don’t realize how drastically the area needed these patrols back, Burke said.

“I’ve shared with other people before that organized crime has moved to Portland and I don’t think it makes its way to the neighborhoods necessarily in the same way. I think in some neighborhoods it definitely does. But we’re seeing a lot of it in Old Town and, you know, some of the data that was helping influence us, we were averaging about 5 shootings a month.”

Although Old Town is one of the smallest Portland neighborhoods in size, police data shows the area has the fifth-highest rate of shootings with 34 incidents reported between January and August 2022.

That data also shows Old Town has the highest homicide rate in Portland from July 2021 until July 2022 with 10 of the city’s 91 homicides having been reported there.

Even though the renewed effort in Old Town is in its infancy, Burke is grateful for the help and the city’s recognition of the need to do something.

“I’m just appreciative of everyone that’s been supporting us and for people feeling re-invested in this neighborhood,” she said.

“Myself, I know the rest of the team, we’re all excited to be down here and rebuild those relationships back, and really try and bring some safety back down here to the revitalization of Portland,” Sgt. Francis told KOIN 6 News.