By Mindy Cooper/The Portland Observer
Mayoral candidate Jefferson Smith is assuring oters of his liberal credentials to reform the Portland Police Bureau, saying needed changes in the bureau won’t be sacrificed because the union representing police officers recently endorsed his candidacy.
Smith, 38, a northeast Portland Democrat who was elected to Legislature in 2008, received his degree in political science from the University of Oregon and attended Harvard Law. He has been viewed throughout the campaign as the most progressive of the three leading candidates for Portland mayor, including businesswoman Eileen Brady and former City Commissioner Charlie Hales.
Smith said he believes his relationship with police will be a positive one for the future of the city, where he hopes to re-build communication and trust between police officers and the people.
“They (the bureau) trust what I say,” he said. “If you can still trust me to have the good of the city in mind, I think we have the opportunity to see something new that we haven’t seen in the last 20-years.”
According to Smith, even though he was the only candidate this year who disagreed with the police association on their most public of policy issues, the union trusts him to tell the truth, which is the most important attribute in leadership.
“This gives us a chance to come together in a different way,” he said, adding that there needs to be strong leadership from the Mayor next year.
We need a cultural shift within the Police Bureau, a city where the people are empowered, problems are solved, and police are accountable for their actions, he said, “but I don’t think we can do this by primarily attacking the Police Bureau. We want a safe community, with trust between the people and the police.”
Smith hopes his new relationship with the bureau will help bridge this gap if he is elected mayor this year.
We need to train the police, so when they arrive on the scene, they are there to solve the problem, he said. “We would start with the younger police officers in order to change our focus.”
Smith spoke of the late Rob Ingram, a dedicated advocate from the African-American community who worked to reduce youth violence within the city. Smith said Ingram was a good friend, whom he had met in high school at Grant.
Like Ingram, Smith said in order to truly tackle the rise in gang violence, “we must start early.”
“We need to also try to have more uniformed police because it makes it easier to have community policing,” he said. “And we need a good Gang Task Force.”
Smith remembers when Julio Marquez was tragically killed several months ago. “He was killed 10 blocks from my house,” he said. “I pass that spot every single day.”
One way to address youth violence, he said, is through the Portland Summers Project, which he considers a main priority. Efforts would include an increase in summer jobs, robust summer enrichment programs, more opportunities for internships, and things like summer computer camp.
“I think we can set a national example of this,” he said. “And we need to stitch together the non-profits and organizations we already have.”
Smith said his biggest competition in the race for Mayor is currently the apathy of those who choose not to vote. “But if they understand what is at stake,” he said, “then we are in good shape.”
“The next Mayor has to be strong,” Smith said. “And there is a need for more souls of justice.”