County now using magnetic sweeper to pick up tacks off Hawthorne Bridge path

They’re coming for you tacks!
(Photo: Multnomah County)

Three weeks after we heard our first reports of thumbtacks scattered somewhere around the ramps of the Hawthorne Bridge, fresh reports keep coming in.

Image sent by a reader of a
tack picked up at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“(Tuesday) they found about 12 tacks, Monday they found about 20 and Friday they found in the 20 to 40 range,” Multnomah County spokesman Mike Pullen told KOIN-TV yesterday. Also yesterday we heard from KOIN reporter Elishah Oesch that her cameraman picked up 14 tacks from the east end of the path near the TriMet bus stop.

The county, which maintains the Hawthorne, Morrison, Burnside and Sellwood bridges, said Wednesday that it’s made a new plan to protect the safety and property of bridge users: it’s going to sweep the bridge daily with a large magnet.

County spokesman Mike Pullen told us yesterday that, “We are now having staff walk down the sidewalks and bike lanes with a large magnet to find the tacks. Very strange situation.”

Pullen added that the County can help the Portland Police Bureau document the incidents. For their part, the PPB has yet to make any public statement about the incidents. According to KOIN-TV’s report Sgt. Pete Simpson, a PPB spokesman, said Wednesday that no formal reports have been made. (Note that this doesn’t mean no one has called the police, just that no reports have been officially filed.)


There’s no justification for this sort of vandalism, of course, and no telling what might be in the mind of the person or people doing it. It’s possible that someone is upset about people who pass too fast or too close while biking across the bridge; it’s just as possible that this is a completely random series of attacks.

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But whatever is going on here, the number of separate incidents suggests it’s more than a coincidence or an idle prank. Back in 2011, similar tack attacks on North Williams and Vancouver Avenues continued for several weeks but eventually abated.

When the first incident happened early this month, we brushed it aside as an isolated incident; but now that it has continued and shows no sign of letting up, we think a more serious response from PPB is warranted. An enforcement solution is probably not feasible at this time, but we’d like to see the PPB and/or Multnomah County issue some sort of joint statement about the problem.

A strongly worded statement could have three key benefits: It would show the community that the PPB takes this crime seriously; the statement, and resulting media coverage, might scare the perpetrator(s) into stopping; and it would raise the awareness of the incidents and possibly lead to new tips or information that could lead to an arrest.

On several past occasions, when vandals slashed automobile tires in southeast Portland, the PPB issued a press release (using their “Crime Stoppers” program) and encouraged the public to call in tips. These tack incidents are just as serious as the slashing of auto tires and should met with a similar response.

The Hawthorne is Portland’s most-biked bridge and one of the highest bike traffic spots in North America. This time of year, it carries about 4,000 to 6,000 bike trips on a typical weekday.

If you happen to witness anyone who seems to be responsible for similar vandalism, you can call 911 to report them. If you become the victim of one of these incidents, call the police non-emergency line at (503) 823-3333 or use the police bureau’s online reporting tool. That may at least add pressure on police to dedicate some resources to the issue.

Jonathan Maus contributed to this story.

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