Nike asks to hire or fund police in order to reopen Portland store

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The Nike Community Store in Northeast Portland has been shuttered for months due to problems with retail theft, and the company now appears to be pressing the city for dedicated police support — and even offering to pay for officers — to get the store back open.

In a Feb. 9 letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler, first reported by The Oregonian, Nike chief security officer Joe Marsico and North America general manager Sarah Mensah said the company closed the Community Store “in response to deteriorating public safety conditions and rapid escalation in retail theft.”

The letter references prior meetings between Nike officials, city staff and the Portland Police Bureau, but says that “to date, the proposed solutions offered and the current public safety situation” wouldn’t allow for a reopening.

Nike’s plan to pay for police

The letter proposes a partnership with the city that would take one of two forms: either Nike would contract and pay for off-duty uniformed PPB officers to be at the store, or the company would form an intergovernmental agreement with the city to fund a designated number of additional full-time officers.

The Nike officials note that the officers would have the power to arrest offenders or detain them until on-duty police arrive.

Security guards contracted by Nike have previously told KGW that they’re forbidden from physically stopping shoplifters — a common policy among major retailers — and increasingly brazen criminals were seen simply walking out the front door with armloads of merchandise last year.

In either of Nike’s proposed scenarios, the letter said the company would still provide private security and the officers would still be expected to respond to urgent community safety calls elsewhere. The letter also said Nike would be interested in pursuing a similar model at the company’s downtown store.

The letter hints that the Community Store closure could become permanent without the new police support, stating “we are now at a critical juncture” and later adding “as Nike evaluates business decisions impacting retail operations, it is critical that one of these two models be made effective prior to May 1, 2023.”

In a statement to KGW, Nike discussed the store’s history dating back to its 1984 opening and touted the company’s involvement with the community.

“Because a safe and secure workplace is essential for our employees, consumers, and communities, we have proposed a sustained and coordinated partnership with the City to better protect employees, consumers, and the community surrounding our MLK Community Store,” the company wrote. “We look forward to hearing its response.”

City says it lacks officers, not money

Internal city emails obtained by KGW show that economic development director Andrew Fitzpatrick forwarded Nike’s letter to several other officials in Wheeler’s office, noting in his message that Nike was “again asking for off-duty PPB officers…”

In a reply sent to Fitzpatrick and several other city staff on Feb. 16, community safety director Stephanie Howard suggested that the city request a meeting with Nike to discuss solutions, but indicated that the company’s proposed approach was a non-starter due to PPB staff constraints.

“We already rely heavily on OT to reach minimum staffing levels for regular shifts, so there is no way we could provide dedicated officers to any business, regardless of its willingness to pay for the costs,” she wrote.

The police bureau’s problem right now isn’t a lack of funding or recruits, she added; it’s a backlog in getting new recruits through certification at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. New hires can’t “do anything meaningful” until they pass, she said.

“Resuming secondary employment might be possible eventually if we can clear the DPSST backlog, which is the largest hurdle to our restaffing efforts,” she said.

In the short term, she said the city and PPB are working on a broader effort to improve safety in the surrounding Eliot neighborhood, similar to plans implemented in other areas like Old Town. Nike has been invited and agreed to participate in those discussions, she said.

She outlined some additional short-term steps the city could explore, including increasing PPB patrols in the area and planning police retail theft missions if the Community Store reopens on a limited basis.

She also suggested that Nike and other employers reconsider their “hands off” policies and allow DPSST-certified security staff to detain shoplifters until PPB officers arrive, as well as allowing security and staff to participate in shoplifting prosecutions by the District Attorney’s office.

Asked for comment, Wheeler provided the following statement to KGW:

“Addressing retail theft, vandalism, and safety concerns requires coordination from local retailers, police and public safety partners with support from the court system, and we will continue to work together to unify our public safety response. Those who are committing crimes must be held accountable for the very real consequences of their actions. I am committed to supporting our business community as we work to find holistic and effective solutions to these issues.”

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