Multnomah County DA prosecuting fewer than half of misdemeanor theft cases, new data shows

Democratic Multnomah County, Oregon, District Attorney Mike Schmidt is prosecuting less than half of the misdemeanor theft cases referred to his office by police, according to new data.

Prosecutors in Portland’s Multnomah County are prosecuting 46% of theft cases involving less than $1,000 in merchandise, according to local NBC affiliate KGW.

Multnomah’s neighboring counties of Clackamas and Washington, by contrast, are prosecuting such crimes at a rate of 84% and 93%, respectively.

Data also indicates that prosecutors in Multnomah County are being tasked with fewer theft cases than prosecutors in Washington County. Police have referred 451 felony and misdemeanor theft cases to Schmidt’s office in Multnomah in 2022, while 1,666 such cases have been referred to the district attorney’s office in Washington County.

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Mike Schmidt, Multnomah County district attorney, speaks to the media at City Hall on Aug. 30, 2020, in Portland, Oregon.
(Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Schmidt is prosecuting fewer second- and third-degree theft cases than Rod Underhill, the district attorney who preceded him before retiring on July 31, 2020.

Underhill prosecuted 60% of misdemeanor theft cases during the first nine months of 2019.

“We issue cases we can prove,” Schmidt told the local outlet. “That’s first and foremost and that is our focus.” He emphasized the importance of having video cases before most such cases can proceed.

Schmidt also pushed back against claims that he has made Portland attractive to criminals.

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Homeless encampments near downtown Portland, Oregon.
(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)

“There’s no policy against prosecuting any of these cases,” he said. “If we have the evidence we need, we’re launching these cases.”

Another complicating factor is Portland’s short-staffed police force, which often lacks resources to do follow-up investigations on misdemeanor theft cases, the outlet said.

Schmidt also said more than 280 cases in Multnomah County were dismissed this year because there was an insufficient number of public defenders, according to local Fox affiliate KATU. Of those cases, 75 were misdemeanors and 206 were felonies, according to case numbers from his office.

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A Portland, Oregon, police officer scans the crowd while dispersing protesters, Aug. 21, 2020.
(Getty Images)

Stores in Portland have been forced to cut hours or close because of the increasingly brazen and rampant theft that goes unpunished in the city, according to a retailer who spoke to the outlet.

“When there’s not prosecution for shoplifting — that’s a big problem,” said Steven Lien, as store owner in downtown Portland.

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“We have situations where a shoplifter will actually say, ‘You’re not going to prosecute me. I’m not going to jail,” Lien added.