Portland, Oregon, calls itself Rose City. But in recent years the bloom has definitely fallen off the rose. There are now many parts of the city that resemble the set of the Netflix series “Walking Dead” minus the creepy zombies. North Portland, in particular, is like an auto graveyard. Twenty-twenty-one set a 26-year high with 9,057 stolen vehicles and the trend is not good with November and December setting records for auto thefts in a month. Increasingly, the stolen cars and trucks are ending up in tent city open-air chop shops.
One of them is next to Acme Storage.
“Our city council and mayor are idiots, just straight up idiots,” Jennifer Wilkins, who is the manager of Acme Storage, told Fox News Digital. “They don’t seem to care.”
There are 100 different homeless encampments in Portland. They’ve been allowed to stay and multiply during the COVID-19 pandemic despite $208 million in federal funding that Portland has received to deal with the crisis. The outskirts of Delta Park have become a magnet for homeless tents and derelict RV’s. Kevin Flanigan, who works at Schooner Creek Boat Works nearby, tells Fox News Digital it’s not unusual to see stolen cars actually dropped off at the homeless camp on a tow truck.
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“We’d see them have a car partway pulled apart,” says Flanigan, “then come back the next day and take even more parts off the vehicle, tip them over and burn them right on the street.”
The stolen car owner’s pain is financial gain for towing companies. Clark Tenney owns 21st Century Towing, which has a sprawling impound lot. He estimates the lot takes in an average of 6 stolen cars each day, and he can spot the ones coming from homeless encampments a mile away. They have been stripped of their batteries, catalytic converters, tires and usually set on fire.
Tenney sees a total breakdown of law and order.
“The punishment for the crime, there’s nothing there,” said Tenney. “We hear more and more if you get pulled over in a stolen car and say ‘I didn’t know’, they send you on your way whether you stole it or not.”
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Portland police recover close to 80 percent of the stolen vehicles within 30 days. They’re in many stages of disrepair. But in almost all cases the case file is closed upon recovery, due to a lack of evidence and a lack of available investigators. In 2021, only 10 percent of the stolen vehicle cases led to an arrest.
The Portland Police Bureau eliminated its auto theft unit in 2006, so there are no officers devoted to that growing crime. But the situation got worse in 2020 when the Portland City Council defunded the PPB by $15 million. Violent crime is also spiking as the city set an all-time high with 92 homicides in 2021. All this as the city struggles to fill 96 vacancies for sworn officers. Police admit auto thefts are way down on their list of priorities.
“Our staffing issue is going to play a role in our ability to address this,” Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Kevin Allen told Fox News Digital. “And we know the problem is bigger than we can handle right now.”
The mayor’s office acknowledges the problems, saying PPB staffing is at a 28-year low based the population of Portland. Sam Adams, a former mayor and current Director of Strategic Innovation for Ted Wheeler’s administration, says it’s a difficult time to hire police.
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“It’s a real issue,” says Adams, “We’re determined to get on top of it. We have to do better.”
On the eyesore of the hundreds of stolen and abandoned vehicles strewn around the city, Adams says that’s the responsibility of the Department of Transportation’s Abandoned Vehicle Unit, which is headed by Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. The AVU received a funding boost of $800,000 in November for the remainder of the fiscal year.