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‘I’m scared for my life’: Dozens of Northwest Portland businesses facing theft, vandalism, break-ins on a weekly basis

Thirty businesses along NW 23rd Avenue formed their own safety group, since they aren't getting help from police. Police say they are too short-staffed to respond.

PORTLAND, Ore. — More than two dozen businesses in the neighborhood around Northwest 23rd Avenue say they are being broken into and vandalized on a weekly basis. 

“I never thought it would get to this,” said Walter Bowers, one of the owners of Thai Bloom Restaurant. He pointed to a window covered by boards that had just been broken into. 

“You can still see broken glass,” he said. Graffiti covered the restaurant’s awnings and patio area. “It’s a significant hardship, it really is, when it happens at the frequency that it happens.”

Bowers has run Thai Bloom for eight years. He said the vandalism has never been this bad. 

“It’s just frustrating, it’s to a point it's boiling over,” he said. 

“It’s killing me. This is a one-person shop,” added Catrina Gregory, who owns Ford Grey, a home goods boutique down the street. Last week, someone stole nearly $13,000 worth of merchandise.

“Put a blanket — a very expensive blanket — over her arm, grabbed a bunch of stuff in her hand, put them in her kangaroo pocket and then took all our gold jewelry.”

Gregory called police and was put on hold for 30 minutes. 

“We know there’s no help coming.”

“I come to work every day and I’m scared for my life and I’m scared for the lives of my employees,” said Arc’Teryx store manager Emily Ballis. She had gates installed to cover the front windows. 

“I have individuals coming in and grabbing jackets. The best one was 24 jackets totaling $11,000. Behind me here this window has graffiti etched into it. That was the newest of the new and that window alone is going to be $3,000.”

Ballis just hired two security guards, which costs $7,500 a week. 

Earlier this month a man walked into the store with a knife and threatened an employee with it. 

“It’s just like, when does it stop? I have security cameras, I have security guards, I’m getting a panic button installed. I don’t know what to do,” she said. 

“We are as frustrated as anyone,” said Sergeant Kevin Allen at the Portland Police Bureau. 

He told KGW they don’t have enough staff to cover low-priority calls such as property theft and vandalism, and it takes an officer sometimes hours to respond. 

“You have to explain, hey, the reason I couldn’t get here is because we had a homicide and I was stuck on that homicide for the last four hours. We only have so many resources we have to prioritize what we can take care of first and every time our first priority is going to be life safety.” 

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When asked about complaints from business owners that their police reports aren't being read because of staffing shortages, Allen said that is sometimes — but not always — the case.

“A lot of reports get written and get put in our system, but I want to be clear that doesn’t mean nothing ever happens. Sometimes follow up is not done because we don’t have the staffing, absolutely, but sometimes it does," Allen said.

There are 30 businesses in the neighborhood where this is happening. They've now formed their own group, so they have a community to call when someone steals or threatens them in the store, which the police said is a good idea. Police also encourage people to continue filing police reports even if it feels like it goes nowhere, because it helps them solve repeat crimes.  

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