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Task forces created to tackle retail theft and stolen cars in Portland

The task forces include funding for two deputy district attorneys, a pair of DA investigators and a legal assistant.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt along with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and local law enforcement announced plans Monday to create a pair of task forces to combat auto theft and organized retail theft.

Multnomah County will contribute $418,000 for two deputy district attorney positions, while Portland will kick in $370,000 for a pair of district attorney investigators and a legal assistant.

Schmidt said the task forces will focus on the worst offenders — prolific shoplifters and car thieves.

“We’ve got to prioritize the people who have three, four, five, six stolen car cases out there and make sure at the very least they are being held accountable,” said Schmidt.

Police data suggests there’s been a surge in auto theft and shoplifting cases in Portland over the past few years.

Some retailers complain shoplifting has become so out-of-control they don’t even bother reporting it. A KGW investigation showed criminals literally stealing merchandise off store shelves and walking out the front door with little or no fear of being arrested or prosecuted.

RELATED: We witnessed shoplifting at Nike, Home Depot and Target, and nobody stopped it

Multnomah County’s top prosecutor admitted he’s witnessed retail theft.

“I’m in the Lego aisle with my son and we saw somebody scoop up a bunch of Legos and walk out. I think we’ve all seen it,” said Schmidt.

A KGW report in November found the prosecution rate for misdemeanor petty theft cases in Portland, which includes shoplifting was 46%. That meant less than half of the Theft Two or Theft Three cases sent to the Multnomah County DA’s office by police were charged. Most cases were dismissed. At the time, Schmidt explained cases that are dismissed are often rejected because prosecutors don’t have the evidence they need.

RELATED: Multnomah County DA prosecutes fewer than half of misdemeanor theft cases, including shoplifting

The DA hopes the extra prosecutors and investigators on the task forces can help with that follow-up — such as collecting interviews, evidence or surveillance video.

“We think this will have an immediate impact,” explained Schmidt. “It will help us make sure that we’re making cases and that if we’re just lacking follow-up, they aren’t going to languish on the vine.”

In addition to the task forces, Portland police hope to build on its project using data science to help track down stolen cars. Officers at East precinct worked with OHSU cancer doctors to better understand how to collect and analyze stop data so they’d be more successful in identifying stolen cars.

“We’re starting to see this concerted effort be really efficient and effective,” said Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell.

Last year, nearly 11,000 cars were stolen in Portland. On average, a vehicle is stolen every 48 minutes.  

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