FOX 12 rides along with Central Precinct Officer in downtown Portland

This week, FOX 12 rode along with a Portland Police Officer at Central Precinct to see what a shift is like for an officer in downtown Portland.
Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 10:36 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - This week, FOX 12 rode along with a Portland Police Officer at Central Precinct to see what a shift is like for an officer in downtown Portland.

FOX 12 rode with Officer Stephen Pettey on the C shift Monday afternoon. He’s been with PPB for five years and says a lot has changed over that time.

“It’s difficult because I’ve had a very compartmentalized view,” said Pettey. “When I joined in 2018 we had a few more specialty teams than we do now. We had a traffic division that would help process DUIIS, do tickets, do enforcement, do things like that. We just got the traffic division back weeks ago. The amount of pedestrians being killed unfortunately went up, so it was a good idea to bring them back.”

In May, PPB announced it would be re-instituting its Traffic Division on a limited basis. This will be the first time since 2021 that PPB has had a dedicated traffic division.

We also discussed understaffing at the bureau. As of June 15, PPB reports it has 286 patrol officers, 101 of which are at Central Precinct.

“There’s roughly ten cars out right now,” said Pettey. “All those except for one are one person cars. I think the national average for police per capita is something like 1.8 and Portland has been ranked at 1.4 or 1.2 for quite a long time. That becomes apparent when you see what we have to deal with.”

Pettey remarked on the teamwork with his fellow officers.

“A lot of the thing of being a police officer is you’re solving problems to help the community,” said Petty. “So a lot of the things we train on is when you get to a scene if you’re the person who is primary and you are going to write the report, you’re going to chat with the victim, you’re going to get video, you’re going to do different stuff like that, you’re going to get all the things you need to write the report. A big part is problem solving. So you go to a scene, you write the report, you’re doing that, but the other people who are supporting you on that scene typically find a problem or a role that’s not being filled and fill that role. If there are witnesses that need to be talked to, you find someone to chat with them. If there is video that needs to be collected someone starts doing that. If cars need to be towed, someone starts on that. It really is a teamwork effort to get the call handled safely, efficiently, and sort of resolve it. That kind of teamwork is critical and it does happen here. I really like the people I work with because once you work with them side by side for a long enough time, you get the idea of how they respond to things and what they need.”

With there being less officers, we asked Pettey about the importance of community policing.

“It’s about treating everyone with respect and giving everyone a good impression,” said Pettey. “Allowing them to know that we are here to provide a service for them and to help them out. It’s a feedback loop that helps us and helps the community. Whether we never see that person again or whether they are a witness on something else two weeks later, we want to make sure everyone is safe and people know that if they have issues in the community they can talk to us.”

As we drove through downtown, a woman flagged Officer Pettey down, saying her daughter had found a wallet on the sidewalk. She gave it to Officer Pettey, who used the ID to track down the owner of the lost wallet. We drove across the river to SW Portland to give the man his wallet back.

Back in downtown Portland, we drove past areas officers deemed problematic over the last few days.

“Recently we’ve had issues at SW 5th and Oak,” said Pettey. “We’ve had a few shootings, we had an assault with a baseball bat at SW 6th and Harvey Milk, couple of other issues there. Those are the first few areas we will look at then we will probably go to Old Town.”

We also drove past SW 4th and Washington, where an alleged open air drug market used to be. Pettey says officers have responded to numerous calls at the location.

“That particular intersection, I think we had about ten serious OD calls we went to.” Said Pettey. “Two of them were fatalities. “I saw a girl lying the middle of a crowd that was doing drugs, yelling at us. We just stopped the car in the middle of the street to go chat with her. She was face down and dead. Literally had people yelling at me ‘hey, we don’t need you, we can take care of ourselves’ and all this stuff. We literally roll her over and start working on her and they all wondered off once they realized what was going on. As we are working on that death another death comes out two blocks away right around here.”

In April, police cleared out the interior of an infamous abandoned building downtown after a series of overdoses and rampant crime in the area.

RELATED: Portland police clear out inside of abandoned Washington Center building

Pettey says since it’s been boarded up, incidents directly around the building have gone down to an extent.

“What it does is it moves the dealers and the people using to different corners, like 6th and Harvey Milk, that’s very popular right now which you can see,” said Pettey. “Also Ankeny Alley behind the Chevron there’s a bunch of people back there usually. That’s the thing: they’ve knocked it down to such a violation at this point that’s its equivalent to basic street offenses that you get a traffic ticket for. So that becomes sort of an issue.”

When passed by voters in 2020, Measure 110 eliminated criminal penalties for possession of specified quantities of controlled substances. Citation fines for possessing small amount of drugs can also be waived by completing a screening with Lines for Life, done through a hotline.

“We do have a couple of teams in the day time going out and doing some of the citations to see if we get any response on people calling the number,” said Pettey. “We do want there to be resources for that type of thing, but the difficult thing is if someone is on a powerful opioid addiction and they are going to breaking into places and stealing to go trade for fentanyl, they are not in the best position in their life to call a number, schedule drug treatment, make appointments, and that type of thing. You will find people who are so out of it that they can’t care for themselves, even if they are not actively OD’ing.”

We discussed synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, and the growing drug problem in the city.

“Yeah the synthetic opioids are definitely an issue,” said Pettey. “We test a bunch of drugs and we are finding a ridiculous amount of fentanyl because it’s so easy to make and so easy to ship. That’s our theory: is that it’s the cheapest thing they can send. They will tell you it’s meth, they will tell you it’s something else, but a lot of it is just fentanyl or traces of fentanyl, which is so much more powerful and does seem to have the ability to just kill you. It’s gotten noticeably worse in the past year or two. I worked here for a long time before I Narcaned my first person and now I’ve lost count.”

We also discussed the possibility of other drugs, like Tranq, coming to Portland.

“I haven’t necessarily seen those found here yet, at least in stuff that I have been working on,” said Pettey. “I do know they seem to be more prevalent now on the East Coast. I think there are finding small amounts of it in California and other states. We have a lot of drugs coming into the city and every day, every delivery it could be something different. But if you look at the history of drugs and drug dealings, there are always newer or cheaper things to cut it with or sell it with that become more prevalent over the decades. It’s something we are thinking about.”

Pettey says because Narcan is made available to those experiencing homeless, there will be some calls they go on where the overdose reversal drug has already been administered.

“So a lot of the times if I come down to an OD on 4th, the person has already had two or three,” said Pettey. “It’s kind of rare if I get there and I am the very first person. AMR is not here yet, fire is not here yet, and I talk to the civilians and they tell me the person hasn’t had Narcan yet. We apply it and wait three minutes, the prescribed period of time for the type we use, the nasal stuff.”

Both instances happened on calls we went to Monday afternoon. The first call was to SW 11th and Harvey Milk for an OD. When we got to the scene, AMR and Portland Fire & Rescue were already helping the man. Officer Pettey says Narcan was administered to him three times.

As he was getting back in the vehicle, a person walking down the street came up and said they believed someone was OD’ing two blocks down at SW 11th and Alder near the bus stop. Officer Pettey was the first on scene. He hopped out and gave dispatch information before giving the man a dose of Narcan before calling for AMR and PF&R. As other first responders got to the scene, the man woke up.

“I went up, tried to speak to the gentleman and got nothing,” said Pettey. “He was breathing a little bit. A big, raspy breath every 6-12 seconds. I administered the Narcan. AMR was coming, Portland Fire & Rescue is coming and at that point it’s just waiting. I put him in the recovery position. So at three minutes I was about to give a second dose, getting it ready and he opened his eyes a little bit.”

After speaking with first responders for a few minutes, the man declined additional care, got up, and walked down the street. Both ODs were in a span of thirty minutes.

A few hours later when we were crossing Burnside into Old Town, there was a call over the radio on another OD call. As soon as an update to the call came through saying CPR was being performed, it became a code call. Officer Pettey turned the lights and sirens on and we rushed to the scene. Despite a train blocking the quickest path on Naito Parkway, we got to the scene in three minutes. We were the first to arrive as other first responders were blocked by the train. Officer Pettey was let into the apartment and administered the first dose of Narcan. Pettey came out to his car to grab another Narcan. After the second dose was administered, AMR, Portland Fire & Rescue, and other PPB officers got to the scene. The man was taken to the hospital.

“We want to make sure if we are going to a call, even if it’s a medical call to cover medical, that we are going to get there at a time where we can be efficient and useful and use the tools and resources that we have to the best effect,” said Pettey. “And in a situation like this one that just popped up where medical is delayed and we are going to be there, literally be the first responders there through the door, that’s why that is so important.”

As we ended our ride along, Officer Pettey went inside Central Precinct to grab more Narcan. He says there were two more OD calls on the shift, one with civilians administering Narcan.