Pamplin Media Group – DECISION 2022: Security is a fundamental right

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton: “I can assure you the crime doesn’t stop at the county line.”

I received a phone call not long ago from a young woman. The call was unexpected, as was the question she asked, “Do you remember me?”

As a Washington County District Attorney, I have interacted with tens of thousands of people over my career. I can’t honestly say that I remember all of them. But I absolutely remembered her.

The last time we had spoken was many years before, during a difficult criminal trial. At that time, she was a 13-year-old victim and I was suing a stepfather figure for horrific sex crimes he committed against her. During the trial, I showed up in court and announced that she would be my next witness. But when I walked down the hall to look for her, she was gone.

What do you do when the key witness suddenly goes missing at a pivotal moment in a trial? Without his testimony, despite his fear, the case would be closed. My mind raced as I frantically searched the hallway as the judge and jury waited in the courtroom.

I finally found her hiding in the bathroom, afraid to testify. No matter how much I reasoned with her and begged her, she refused to budge. Finally, in desperation, I reached out my hand and asked him to take it so we could walk into the courtroom together. Amazingly, she did. She testified, her attacker was convicted and we both went on with our lives.

I continued to prosecute criminals and eventually was elected district attorney. She continued to grow. And then, many years later, we reconnected with his phone call and his question: “Do you remember me?

She called to ask me to interview for a college assignment. We agreed to meet in person, and when the interview ended, we talked about that time when she was hiding in the bathroom. I asked her what she was thinking when she changed her mind and took my hand. His response was surprising.

She told me that at that moment she knew she had a choice to make. She could stay in the bathroom and feel safe that day, but be scared the rest of her life. Or, she could take my hand and be scared that day, but be safe for the rest of her life.

Safety is a fundamental right. Unlike the rights to speech, religion or property, the right to security is not explicitly enshrined in the Constitution. But it’s just as important. Without security, our society cannot function and other rights are meaningless.

Security means being able to live, work and raise a family without fear of crime. It is knowing that when a crime is committed, justice will follow. When you call the police, they will come. When they come, they will protect. And when they protect by making an arrest, the district attorney will prosecute the criminal to protect the victim and the community.

I am running for re-election as Washington County District Attorney because these principles are under attack. My opponent is an extremist who has publicly called for dismantling the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office and abolishing Oregon’s prison system. I believe this type of extremism will inevitably lead to chaos, as we saw in Portland.

I am proud to announce that Washington County is the safest large county in Oregon. Our crime rate is 30% lower than the state average and 50% lower than Multnomah County. However, the task of providing security is more difficult today than at any other time in modern history. The challenges of soaring addiction, uncontrolled homelessness and growing crime are mounting.

In nearby Portland, crime is out of control. According to the Portland Police Bureau, there were more than 1,300 shootings in Portland last year, up from 414 in 2019. And auto theft in Portland is so prevalent that an average of 28 cars are stolen every day.

While it may be tempting to assume that Portland’s problems will remain isolated, as the district attorney for the neighboring county, I can assure you that the crime does not stop at the county line. Throughout Washington County, we are seeing an increase in property and violent crime by Portland felons entering our community.

Despite these grim facts, I believe this is a fight we can win. I often hear people wondering why someone isn’t doing something. As your Washington County District Attorney running for re-election, I’m working with other public safety officials to do all we can. But in our system of participatory government, where we share a common obligation to be informed and to act, I need your help and support.

Just as that young victim hiding in the bathroom recognized the need to stand up for her safety, I believe our community must also stand together to keep us safe. Please stand by me as I seek re-election to keep Washington County safe.

Kevin Barton is the Washington County District Attorney. He is currently seeking a second term.

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