Officer Slyter isn’t “walking a beat” as punishment. See why this cop requested permission to trade his patrol car for a pair of sturdy walking shoes‚
Slyter meets the owner of a house, north of the tracks. He’s concerned because admitted meth users gave this address as their residence.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A cop “walking a beat” seems like a quaint, an old-fashioned concept nowadays.
But one Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officer has “hit the bricks” and already is making a real, positive difference in the Parkrose area.
Officer Robert “Rob” Slyter’s beat is NE Sandy Boulevard. During his ten-hour shifts, he patrols between NE 102nd Ave. east to NE 122nd Ave. He’ll walk as far south as SE Prescott St., and go north of the tracks to NE Marx St.
Cop proposes foot patrol
Being put on “foot patrol” wasn’t a form of punishment meted out to Slyter‚ he suggested the unusual tour of duty — as an experiment in community policing.
As we stride south with the officer on NE Sandy Blvd, Slyter sums up his concept in one word: “Reconnecting”.
“As a Neighborhood Response Team officer, I talk with a lot of people in Parkrose. Both businesspeople and neighbors tell me they feel this is a ‘forgotten’ area of Portland. I don’t believe the area was consciously neglected. But with increased call loads, and less manpower, there’s less time available for district officers to work on ‘community livability’ issues.”
Looking forward to less crime and greater livability in Parkrose, Officer Slyter checks in with Anita Tabayoyon, at A.R. Moss Floral Design on NE Sandy Blvd.
Value of face-to-face
While walking his patrol, Slyter says he has met most of the business owners and managers along Sandy Blvd.
“Getting in to businesses and shaking their hands ‚Äì letting them put a face with the badge ‚Äì it becomes a lot more personal, between the community and us,” comments Slyter.
We turn into the A.R. Moss Floral Design shop, and are greeted by the owner, Anita Tabayoyon.
“I love it,” Tabayoyon says. “It’s nice knowing he’s somewhere close by. It’s great, looking out the window of my shop and seeing him chatting with people. It is really assuring.”
She tells us she hasn’t seen a remarkable change in the area during the month Slyter’s been on patrol. “But, I’ve noticed fewer ‘walking girls’ go strolling by. His ‘being here’ changes peoples’ attitudes.”
Slyter spends a moment with Ruth Ruby at Ruthie’s Rags.
Inside another shop, Ruth Ruby at Ruthie’s Rags comments, “Officer Slyter is a terrific addition to the neighborhood. To have an officer be seen walking along the street really helps. It is a deterrent to people who want to do things they shouldn’t.”
Lessons learned while on patrol
After visiting with Ruthie, Officer Slyter walks south and around the corner, to inspect a vacant building. “At least the owner has boarded up the back door.” He points out where crooks ‚Äì most likely meth addicts ‚Äì tore open the walls to steal the building’s electric wiring. “They strip it and sell it for scrap.”
Walking to a back outbuilding, Slyter comments, “There have been as many as three people living here. We chase them out, but others take their place.” He points to an ornately decorated gift bag sitting in the corner of the shed. “I’ve learned not to look ‚Äì it’s usually human waste.”
Benefits from past experience
As we walk, Slyter shares with us his perspective on being a cop for 15 years.
“Early on, I went through my phase of feeling that I was invincible; and that as a police officer, you should hear and obey me. That just doesn’t work. Ultimately, it’s not out what we’re out here to do. Our job is to be community policing officers. In order to do that, you have to be friendly, even if you’re not be in a friendly mood.”
Slyter explains that being Neighborhood Response Officer helped him sharpen his interpersonal relationship skills. And, time spent with East Precinct’s Crime Reduction Unit also added other abilities, further equipping him for dealing with all kinds of people.
A suspected prostitute takes issue with Slyter for interrupting her “stroll”, as she trolled NE Sandy Blvd. for her next customer.
Meet the neighbors
We cross Sandy Blvd and head north across the railroad tracks. A neatly-painted blue house on the east side of the street catches his attention‚ two men are standing outside.
One of the men claims to be the house’s owner and landlord.
“Do you know these two people? They’re admitted meth users; they’re saying they live at this house,” Slyter asks, as he shows to the owner the two names he’s written down in his leather-bound patrolman’s notebook.
The owner shakes his head. “No, neither of them are my tenants. I hope the renters don’t have these folks staying here.” He says he wants to sell his houses and stop being a landlord. “It’s so hard to find good renters.”
The men extend their hands, and the officer shakes. “Thanks for looking out,” they say as we walk toward NE Marx St.
Helps homeless family
The walk eastbound on NE Marx St. is uneventful. We ask Slyter to tell us about one of his more unusual arrests.
He ponders our question. “Arrests haven’t been all that exciting. Let me tell you about a good thing that happened last week.”
He relates how he came upon a family of five, two adults and three kids‚ camping in a dome tent in Senn’s Dairy Park on at NE 112 Ave. and NE Prescott St. “They’d been homeless for a while.”
“It was sad. No one in the family had ever been arrested. The husband was not abusive to the wife. The kids are fairly well squared-away for their conditions. They’re not doing drugs. None of the shelters were set up for a family‚ that was also handicapped accessible.”
After hours of phone calls‚ and help from a precinct worker’s husband, who is the pastor of a Sellwood church‚ the family had found temporary shelter, and finally, a more permanent place in Gresham.
“The law says you kick camping transients out of the park,” Slyter commented. He says he wouldn’t have been able to handle the problem this way as a patrol officer. “Ultimately, it was nice to help them.”
Works to increase quality of life
As we continue our tour, we ask Slyter about the infamous “no-tell motels” that line the boulevard.
He contemplates our question, and answers concisely, “Some cause problems, and some don’t. Most keep their places up, cooperate with us‚ and a few don’t.”
Using his well-honed community-policing skills, Slyter calms down this intoxicated elderly woman until she can be taken to the detox center.
Walking eastbound on Sandy, we come upon an elderly lady, sitting on the sidewalk, enjoying the sunshine, and refreshing herself with a “Milwaukee’s Finest” 32-ouncer. Her hands are shaking. Her name is Tammy, she says; she was released from the hospital “for seizures”, 18 hour prior to our meeting.
At first, Tammy responds rudely to the officer’s inquiries. Slyter calmly replies, “Drinking, and sitting out here on the street, probably isn’t going to help your medical condition.” She objects when he pours out her beers.
Sgt. Steele rolls up and verifies Tammy’s condition: She’s publicly intoxicated. She’ll be taken to Hooper for a detoxification session. “What will happen to my stuff?” cries Tammy.
“You’ll be out in four hours‚ if you’re nice to them,” Slyter reassures her. “If you’re unpleasant, they’ll keep you longer. Be polite, and you’ll be out soon.”
Slyter advises her that, if she’s going to drink, to do so in her motel room. She protests, and says she’s thirsty. Her lips look parched.
While we wait for a patrol car to take her to Hooper, Tammy sits on the sidewalk, trembling. Your street-wise reporter takes pity on this faded Parkrose flower, hikes to the mini-market, and buys her a bottle of water. “Mmm. It’s cold,” she says as she smiles faintly. She opens it and takes a long drink.
She looks up and comes to the realization that a stranger just gave her a gift. “We’ve been nice to you, Tammy,” we say, “now, it’s your turn. Be nice to the officer taking you to Hooper, and their staff.”
She agrees; the officers help her up, and we’re on our way.
Tons of trash cleaned from tramp camps
“When I started this a month a go,” says Officer Slyter, “I noticed transient-related issues. There were large dump sites north of the railroad tracks that parallel NE Sandy Blvd.”
Hidden behind the blackberry bushes, mostly on Union Pacific Railroad property, are transient camps. “These camps become dumps. I got a Multnomah County work crew that works with METRO to do a cleanout. In three days, they pulled bout 13,000 pounds‚ more than 6.2 tons, of trash and debris.”
To further reduce the problem, Slyter’s working with a railroad track maintenance supervisor. They’ll bring up a team of brush cutters to remove the brush along the tracks from NE 102 Ave. to 122 Ave.
Back in the brambles, north of the tracks, Slyter shows us one cleaned-out camps. He notes a fence pried open behind a business.
Not family camping
“This isn’t the ‘needy homeless’ that live here. The brush provides cover for people to use the drugs‚ and leave their needles behind. Prostitutes are servicing their johns, and leaving discarded condoms. In addition, the cover and concealment of the brush makes it easier for people to cut through fences and raid businesses along the tracks.”
The transients are looking to steal metal‚ new, used,or otherwise‚ that can be sold for scrap. “We’re hoping that by clearing this out, it will have a positive impact by stopping it.”
Slyter looks at a fence that was pulled away from the post, and shakes his head. “I asked this business to fix this two weeks ago. If the building owners mend their fences and provide good lighting, it sure helps.”
Signs of appreciation
We hear a truck horn toot; the driver waves at the officer. “We don’t get this kind of feedback when we’re in a patrol car,” Slyter says. “You only hear the people you’re arresting‚ and their family members‚ screaming obscenities at you. It is easy to become jaded, and start believing everybody dislikes you‚ and cops in general.”
We ask Slyter what’s the best thing about his experience of walking the boulevard so far.
“Doing this, people express a real appreciation for what you do‚ it does you good. We don’t do this job to get complimented, but it still nice to hear.”
After two hours of walking Slyter’s beat with him, we’re impressed with how well this officer has learned the nuances of his territory.
“Don’t step in that puddle,” he cautions as we cross SE 116th Ave. “That’s a deep one.”
¬© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service