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Private armed security outfits have been hired to patrol a popular section of Portland known for its bars and nightlife after the city slashed police funding and saw a year of violence in the area.
“My job is to get you home safe,” one guard for the Ravencrest Force Protection Group, Jean-Pierre LaFont, told Willamette Weekly. “Unless you’re the perpetrator. The only way for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing. So I’m going to do something.”
“This once was a great city,” he added. “This is a great city. It’s the best. We just forgot.”
LaFont, a Navy SEAL veteran, patrols Portland’s Old Town wearing a bulletproof vest, and carrying a 9 mm pistol and an AR-15 rifle. He’s become a common sight in the area every Friday and Saturday night after a local bar owner hired Ravencrest following a shooting in June in the area when two men were shot and bullets sprayed across eight cars.
Many of the people employed by Ravencrest are veterans, with LaFont’s boss, Army veteran Cory Webb, saying they have to treat patrolling Portland “almost like overseas. Keep your head on a swivel.”
Ravencrest is far from alone in patrolling Portland’s Old Town to keep parties from turning into bloodshed and shootouts. At least three private security firms employ armed guards to hit the streets to keep the peace as police officers grapple with crimes after their department was slashed by $16 million last year.
Portland saw 100 consecutive nights of riots and protests last year following the death of George Floyd. The cleaning and repair bills for federal buildings alone stood at over $2 million, while officials estimated $23 million in damages and lost business in downtown Portland when riots hit a fever pitch.
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Amid the rioting and protests, the city voted to slash its police budget, which included stripping Portland of its Central Precinct Entertainment Detail. Nine officers used to be assigned to Portland’s nightlife scene, but now, only two officers patrol the area.
Riot police members stand guard during protests in Portland, Oregon, U.S. April 16, 2021, in this still image taken from a video. Grace Morgan via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
“We’re working with bare-bones staffing,” Police Bureau spokesman Lt. Greg Pashley says. “It’s like trying to paint a wall without enough paint.”
The two officers who remain patrolling the nightlife scene are able to call for backup from the other 18 officers who patrol the Central Precinct, but oftentimes those other officers are working on their own cases.
“We’re at the point in the Police Bureau where any time we add staffing to a certain unit—say, the Entertainment Detail—we have to take it away from something else,” Central Precinct Capt. Robert Simon said. “Do I cut my daytime bike team downtown to staff the Entertainment Detail?”
Business owners are now championing taking matters into their own hands by hiring private security firms and voiced their concerns on the insufficient number of police in the city.
“There aren’t enough police officers,” co-owner of the Society Hotel and president of the Old Town Chinatown Community Association, Jessie Burke, said. “We’re having to do what the government used to do. We’re kind of running an underground government to keep things safe.”
“We defunded programs before we figured out what the replacement programs were,” Burke added. “The city is in this decision-making spiral of Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”
LaFont recounted he’s already witnessed and helped stop violent situations, including on Sunday, when a fight broke out in a bar and he called the police to help assist. Only 30 minutes later, gunshots rang out, but the people in the area continued partying as LaFont remained on high alert in case the bar and patrons became targets.
After Portland joined the chorus of liberal cities defunding police departments, the city’s Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler, reversed course and is now calling for more officers and police resources.
“It is obvious from where I sit that we do not have adequate resources deployed on our streets in a proactive way,” Wheeler said in July, after the city was rocked by an especially bloody weekend of shootings.
“And so I will fight for additional resources for the police bureau, I will fight for more police officers and I will fight for more tools and whatever support the police bureau needs to get its job done,” Wheeler added.
At the start of August, Portland passed a grim crime milestone: It logged its most homicides so far this year in over a quarter-century.
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The city has seen at least 56 murders since January to Aug. 2. Meanwhile, shootings have surged, with July alone seeing 150 shootings, which is the most in a single month since police started recording gun crime data in 2018.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’s request for comment on the armed security guards in Old Town.
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