County, Portland leaders announce coordinated, collaborative efforts to address retail, auto theft.

May 2, 2023

District Attorney Mike Schmidt joined Chair Jessica Vega Pederson and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Monday, May 1, to announce two new crime-reducing task forces — one focused on organized retail theft and another aimed at auto theft. 

The effort comes amid a scourge of auto and retail thefts in Portland and Multnomah County. From 2019 to 2022, reported auto thefts alone increased by 68%, Schmidt said as he opened the press conference at the Multnomah County Central Courthouse.  

County, Portland leaders announce coordinated, collaborative efforts to address retail, auto theft.

Just in 2022, more than 1,500 theft cases were referred to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution — an all-time high for the agency. Over 26,000 thefts overall were reported in 2022 — a 10 percent increase from 2020. 

“I want to be clear that this work has been happening all along,” Schmidt said.

“Everyday my office is reviewing these types of cases but we want to do more and we know that working together in a focused and collaborative manner we can get even better results.” 

Even as charges are being issued now, the new task forces will build on those current efforts, bringing a more-focused, collaborative approach to the work as a team of new deputy district attorneys, investigators and a legal assistant join forces. 

The Organized Retail Theft Task Force will work with law enforcement and retailers to address barriers to tackling retail crime, including improved strategies to address the most prolific offenders, more training on loss reduction and investigative work, and enhanced case preparation.

The Auto Theft Task Force will work with local law enforcement to reduce auto theft through improved investigations, case preparation, law enforcement training, prosecutions, and community outreach education aimed at preventing vehicle thefts.

Both Multnomah County and the City of Portland would contribute funds to create the five dedicated positions (two deputy district attorneys, two investigators, and one legal assistant) within the District Attorney’s Office to lead the task forces. Portland would provide $370,000 for the two district attorney investigators and the legal assistant, and Multnomah County would invest $418,000 for two new deputy district attorneys over the coming year. 

DA Schmidt was joined by Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Portland Business Alliance President & CEO Andrew Hoan in making today’s announcement.

“We have business owners across our community — people already reeling from the economics of the pandemic — who are dealing with rampant theft that further impacts their livelihoods and their ability to serve customers,” said Chair Vega Pederson. “This theft is organized and prolific, and it is unacceptable.”  

For many families, an auto theft can have significant personal impacts, she continued.  

Their car may be their only way to get around – their only way to get to work efficiently, their only way of taking their child to daycare or school, the only way they can provide the eldercare an aging parent relies on. 

And the steep costs associated with buying and owning a vehicle, can make it incredibly difficult to replace. For this reason, the ripple effects of auto theft are often catastrophic and destabilizing, lingering for months or even years.

Being the victim of a retail crime can be similarly destabilizing for a business owner and even their employees — in some cases causing months of cleanup and headaches, and in others costing the life of the business itself, harming the surrounding neighborhood. 

“What we’re saying to our community today is, ‘We hear your frustrations,’” said Chair Vega Pederson. “We share your desire to see action. We want to see those responsible for these crimes held accountable. And we’re stepping up to make that happen.”

As part of supporting the task forces, the Portland Police Bureau, Oregon State Police, the Gresham Police Department, and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office will work together on investigations — identifying prolific offenders and working on community outreach and prevention. The task forces will also involve business owners and loss prevention officers whose experiences will be instrumental in generating effective prosecutions.  

"I hear from Portlanders every day who have been victims of retail and car thefts and deeply empathize with the many people in our community who are affected by criminal behavior,” said Mayor Wheeler. 

“These task forces are a way of bolstering the strong collaboration among our law enforcement partners in the region to support the good work they are already doing. Adding prosecutorial and investigative resources to this innovative police work will move Portland forward as we work to reclaim our city from those who think they are above the law.”

Attendees at the press conference also included Portland Commissioner Rene Gonzalez, Oregon State Police Superintendent Casey Codding, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, Gresham Police Chief Travis Gullberg, and Portland Police Association President Aaron Schmautz. 

Portland Business Alliance President & CEO Andrew Hoan, who joined the Chair, Mayor and District Attorney in speaking at the press conference, said break-ins, senseless vandalism, robberies, and vehicle thefts are plaguing businesses of all sizes, especially storefront businesses. Hoan noted those businesses are often owned by people of color or immigrants. 

“Today is a good day and we are pleased to be here,” said Hoan. “And as you can tell, it takes a village. I want to commend all those in law enforcement who are working tirelessly every single day. And specifically, DA Schmidt, Chair Vega Pederson and Mayor Wheeler for the announcement of this multi-jurisdictional crackdown.” 

“No one is more optimistic about the future of our great city than the Portland Business Alliance. We know Portland's best days are ahead, especially if our local public and private sector leaders collaborate to solve our most pressing problems.”

Hoan said Portlanders feel less safe than they did before the pandemic, and noted statistics showing crime has gone up since 2019, saying “building a brighter future requires us to be honest about our current challenges.”

But he also highlighted some good news: Preliminary FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Data shows violent crime and property crime were down in 2021 and 2022 after surging in 2020. Portland saw a 10.6% reduction in violent crime and 2.1% reduction in property crime.

“With the formation of these task forces,” Hoan said, “we believe this positive trend can be accelerated.”  

The Multnomah County DA’s Office will provide ongoing updates as the task forces kick off and work progresses.

Watch the full press conference here