FAIRVIEW, Ore. — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, made a rare public visit to the Portland metro area Thursday to warn against defunding and demoralizing law enforcement.
The congresswoman appeared for a press conference alongside Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. The press conference followed a private roundtable discussion with representatives from police agencies around the area, including the Vancouver Police Department.
"They don't know, day to day, whether they're going to have the backup and support to do one of the most difficult jobs we have in our society," Herrera Beutler said. "I am so proud and humbled that men and women every day in our community in Southwest Washington and in Portland continue to put on the uniform."
Neither Herrera Beutler nor Katko represent constituents in Fairview or even in Oregon, where the event was held. Katko held a similar roundtable with New York City police last week.
Herrera Beutler, who doesn't typically appear at political events south of the Columbia River, said that Southwest Washington and the Portland metro area "are linked, whether we like it or not."
"My folks work in Portland; we have police officers who work in Portland that live in Southwest Washington," she said. "The violence and the chaos and the anarchy that has been taking place in Portland has got to end."
Jeff Anaya, who represents the Vancouver Police Guild, attended the conference but declined to offer public comments.
In June 2020, the Portland City Council cut its police budget by around 4 percent. Crime in the city is rising — according to Portland Police Bureau data, homicides in the city jumped from five in the first half of 2020 to 38 in the first half of 2021. As The Associated Press reported last month, however, political narratives that link those homicides exclusively to cuts in the police budget are overly simplified and ignore the impact of COVID-19 and the surge of protests last summer.
"2020 was just a crazy complicated year where lots of things happened, and there are lots of potential explanations for why we saw these big changes," David Abrams, a University of Pennsylvania Law School professor who tracks crime rates, told the AP. "It's complicated."
No municipalities in Washington's 3rd Congressional District — encompassing Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Skamania and Klickitat counties, as well as a small sliver of southern Thurston County — have responded to anti-policing sentiments with major cuts to their policing budgets in the last year.
The largest law enforcement agency in the district, the Vancouver Police Department, actually received a 3 percent increase in its biennial budget, despite widespread belt-tightening in nearly every other department in the city (the overall city operating budget was 3.25 percent less than the prior one).
In Vancouver, both department leadership and rank-and-file officers have been guaranteed annual salary bumps between 3 and 4 percent through 2022. The city is additionally allocating around $3 million to implement changes in the department including a body-worn camera program, as well as starting a three-year lease at a new headquarters on Chkalov Drive with the option to buy the facility in 2022 for $10.5 million.
Herrera Beutler acknowledged that cuts to law enforcement haven't manifested in her district.
"I have not had one city councilor or mayor express to me 'Gosh, we're going to defund the police.' My role here, and my understanding, is what's happening in Portland is coming right up I-5 into Vancouver," she said. "We don't want to see that grow into Southwest Washington."
Ahead of the press conference, the Democratic congressman who does represent the Portland metro area, Earl Blumenauer, tweeted a critique of Herrera Beutler's priorities.
"If Congresswoman Herrera Beutler wanted to be helpful, she could work within her own district to try and prevent the Proud Boys and other white nationalists who live there from spreading their hate and violence in Oregon and in our U.S. Capitol," Blumenauer wrote.
Asked to comment on Blumenauer's tweet, Herrera Beutler said she and the congressman "see differently on this issue."
"I think when you allow anyone — I don't care if it's a white nationalist group or if it's an antifa group — if you allow them to break the rules and break the law and injure people and come after police officers," she said, "you're going to create an environment where that's going to continue."
Although both Herrera Beutler and Katko voted in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, neither voted this week to establish a select congressional committee to investigate the event. In a statement explaining her vote, Herrera Beutler said she didn't believe the commission would be "viewed as credible by at least half of Americans."