With the wondrous backdrop of the snow-capped Mount Hood and the beautiful Willamette and Columbia rivers, Portland, the largest city in Oregon, has lots to offer. Well known for its coffeehouses, microbreweries, and eco-friendliness, the city is a great place to visit at any time of year. Portland has lots of attractions for visitors of all ages, including Washington Park, and the formal Japanese Garden. There is also a thriving music, theater and art scene too.
Transport-wise, there are so many ways to get around! From the international airport, direct rail links to San Francisco and Ontario, to its streetcars and taxis, you won’t struggle to get from A to B.
However, just like any large city, you will need to take precautions to ensure you stay safe. This isn’t to say that Portland is particularly dangerous, but there will be risks whenever you visit a large, unfamiliar city.
If you follow the advice in our extensive guide, you’ll have an excellent and safe visit to Portland!
Crime in Portland
Compared to other large cities, Portland has had relatively low crime rates. However, in 2021, there has been a marked increase in the number of homicides recorded.
That said, the rate is still lower than the US as a whole. In Portland, the murder rate per 1,000 is 0.04 compared with 0.05 for the United States as a whole. However, the rape, robbery, and assault rates are higher at 0.56, 1.5, and 3.42, respectively (US figures are 0.43, 0.82, and 2.50) according to the Neighborhood Scout website.
The neighborhoods with the highest number of crimes are Hazlewood and Downtown. You can find specific statistics and types of crimes on the Portland Police web page.
Crime specifics in Portland – things to be mindful of
As in all large cities, there are lots of different types of crimes. In this next section, we’ll take a look at some individual crimes so you can be aware of them on your visit to Portland.
One of the most recent scams highlighted by The Portland Police Bureau is a telephone scam that has been running in the area. As a visitor, it is highly unlikely you will be a victim of this crime, but it is good to know about it just in case.
People have reported receiving phone calls from a supposed member of a sheriff or police department. In these calls, the person is often referred to by name, told the call is being recorded, and tells the person that they missed jury duty or a court appearance. In the call, the caller demands the person send money so that a warrant isn’t issued for their arrest.
Pickpockets operate in all major cities worldwide, so it’s important to be aware so that you can outsmart them and avoid being targeted. Pickpockets tend to target tourists and visitors. It’s a smart move because vacationers tend to have lots of good things in their bags and wallets, and if you’re not smart, you could end up having something stolen.
If you exercise discretion, avoid being in risky situations (alone in dark, deserted places, for example), and maintain awareness of your possessions, you’ll be as safe as you can.
Wearing a money belt is a good idea. This means you can wear it underneath your clothes. You can keep anything of value in it like cash, cards, and your passport. That way, if a pickpocket strikes, they won’t be able to get to it.
Cell phones are also a big issue for pickpockets. Try and keep yours in an inside pocket of a jacket and never in a rear pocket. Also, make sure you have insurance and back up your photographs and data online. With an app like “find my phone”, you’ll be able to see where your phone is – and be able to wipe it remotely too. Also, never put anything down on a seat or table, even for a split second.
One final thing to note is to leave anything of value in your hotel room. It’s much less likely for things to get stolen from a room than it is from your person.
Credit card fraud
Credit card fraud can happen anywhere, but when traveling away from home, you’ll be unfamiliar with card machines and ATMs and might be at a higher risk of fraud.
Card skimming of credit cards is a huge business. In 2014, over $16 billion were lost due to skimming. There are four ways of skimming a card:
- When you’re buying something – this way of skimming is declining, but it is still prevalent in the US, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Essentially, fraudsters harvest information from your card using the point-of-sale card reader.
- At ATMs, fraudsters can scan the card’s magnetic strip by using overlays on card readers. They can also record PIN details via a pressure-sensitive keypad or a camera. So always check if a machine looks legitimate before using it.
- Contactless payments – all fraudsters need to do is have a mobile point-of-sale machine in their bag and bump into unsuspecting people’s bags or back pockets. Since many cards can be used multiple times before a PIN entry is required, this is an easy way for criminals to get money. You can avoid this by keeping your wallet in an inside pocket and being aware of people getting too close to you.
- Online payments are the most widespread type of credit card fraud, but there are ways to avoid being scammed.
Tips for avoiding credit card fraud
- Use an app that puts your card on hold when you’re out and about. You can unlock it when you want to make a purchase.
- Get cell phone banking and leave your cards at home. When you pay with your smartphone, you need to put your PIN in or some other form of ID before paying.
- Use a wallet with RFID protection inside. This means your card can’t be scanned without you knowing. If you don’t want to purchase a new wallet, placing a piece of aluminum foil around each card works just as well.
Drugs & Drink Spiking
For many years, Oregon has been high up in the list of US states with high alcohol and drug addiction rates. Towards the end of 2020, Oregon decriminalized drugs in a bid to support addicts and aid recovery.
When traveling to Portland, you shouldn’t need to worry much about the drug statistics, however. Instead, just like all major cities, the thing you’ll need to be mindful of as far as drugs are concerned are spiking events. So, if you’re in a busy place, don’t leave your drinks unattended and don’t accept a drink from a stranger.
Unfortunately, Portland, Oregon, has seen a rise in violent crimes of late. The city has already broken the 1987 record of 66 homicides, making 2021 the year of the most murders since records began. That said, violent crimes per thousand people have dropped 77% in the last thirty years, though the rate has stayed level for the last five.
Portland is a fantastic city to see by bike. There are over 160 miles of bike lanes and almost thirty miles of buffered bike lanes. Cycling is so popular that the League of American Bicyclists named it a “platinum” bike-friendly community. Portland has also been described as the number one bike-friendly city in the US by Bicycle magazine for many years.
Since there are so many bikes everywhere, bike theft does happen. However, there are a number of things you can do to protect your bike. Firstly, double lock it. Using two locks will slow bike thieves down and make it less of a target. Also, you should lock the frame to the wheels as well as to a secure cycle stand. This way, bike thieves can’t make off with your wheels! Finally, make sure you have your bike registered somewhere, have it marked, and park it securely.
Many people avoid using cars in Portland because the public transport system is so good – and often a lot quicker to get around. However, if you do need to use your car, you should always take steps to avoid car theft.
Vehicles are stolen for different reasons, but parking in secure parking lots with CCTV is a good idea. Also, never leave valuables or things that could look like valuables in your car, and always make sure your vehicle security alarm works!
Rioting – is Portland safe right now?
There have been a number of riots in Portland in recent months. That said, the chances of being caught up in a riot are slim. The best thing to do if you come across riots is to leave the area and return to your hotel room to stay safe.
Unfortunately, Portland has a very high number of homeless people, and this figure is rising. Locals consider homelessness in the city to be an issue, and there really is a need for support and housing for those living on the streets.
Homelessness on its own won’t pose a problem for a traveler in Portland, but there are obvious links between homelessness, drug use and crimes that you should be mindful of.
Does Portland have Gangs?
Areas for tourists to avoid
The most dangerous neighborhoods in Portland are in the east. These are Lents, Hazelwood, Centennial, Powellhurst-Gilbert, and Montavilla. These are ranked most dangerous because of their high crime rates and because they are close to the deadliest intersections in the city.
It’s a good idea to avoid Selwood Bridge if you’re driving around the city. Not because it’s a particularly dangerous place but because the bridge itself is narrow and old, and cyclists often squeeze alongside you, making it even more difficult to navigate.
Tips for staying safe in Portland
Downtown Portland is pretty safe when you’re out walking in the evenings; most neighborhoods in Portland are safe too. However, there are lots of homeless people in the Old Town to the north of the city, and here, you’ll find drug addicts and not-so-pleasant beggars too.
One great place to visit is Healy Heights. This place is away from busy downtown, and from Council Crest Park, you have breathtaking views of Mount Hood.
Below downtown is another part of the city that is really peaceful with not a lot of crime – Lair Hill.
If you like greenery, Northwest Heights is a quiet and peaceful part of the city that is filled with animals and nature. It has a wonderful view of downtown Portland, and from here, it’s hard to imagine you’re in the city at all.
Does Portland have Earthquakes?
There is a risk of earthquakes in Portland. The city and its surrounding region is potentially the most seismically active area within Oregon and has encountered seventeen earthquakes of an estimated magnitude of four and greater since records began.
Today scientists think there’s approximately a “37% chance that a megathrust earthquake of 7.1+ magnitude in this fault zone will occur in the next 50 years.”
If you do encounter an earthquake on your trip, find the safest cover you can find and hold on. Stay away from windows, stay indoors until the shaking stops and if you’re outside stay away from buildings, trees and power lines if you can.
Whatever your reasons for visiting Portland, you shouldn’t be overly concerned for your safety. All of the points mentioned in this article would likely be replicated when talking about any large city across the world. As long as you follow basic safety guidelines as you would in any large city, you’re sure to have a great time.
Gary is an award winning full time professional photographer and videographer with too much wanderlust for his own good. Fuelled by strong coffee, you’ll often find him wandering well off hiking trails in search of interesting photographic subjects or scenery to video. Self taught and with the use of pioneering digital techniques, he quickly built up a strong client base and has worked with many prestigious organisations, including GQ, BBC, London Fashion Week, Grazia, Sky, Metro, Vogue Italia. He specialising in evocative images of people, places and cinematic videography and his goal is to make the viewer look twice and engage. As well as a penchant for good design, the ketogenic diet and Hungarian Vizslas, he also has a huge affection for Chicago, Bucharest, Scandinavia, Croatia and absolutely everywhere in Italy. Find him on Instagram @garynansome, Twitter @garynansome and his website https://garynunn.co.uk/