We’ve reported on this special unit since it started as the “Tired of Tweekers” mission. See how this handful of police officers are still making outer East Portland streets safer every day ‚Ä¶
The Portland Police Bureau Crime Reduction Unit’s acting Sgt. Mark DeLong and Officer Anthony Passadore show people at the Commander’s Forum an evidence bag containing illicit drugs taken from suspected drug dealers.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What started two years ago simply as a crackdown on methamphetamine dealers and users in southern outer East Portland has become a full-time unit of Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct.
At the October Commander’s Forum, the “Crime Reduction Unit’s” (CRU) acting Sgt. Mark DeLong and Officer Anthony Passadore gave a well-illustrated progress report.
East Precinct’s CRU is comprised of officers who don’t take service calls. These cops are trained to spot individuals’ behavior which indicates they are involved in some kind of criminal enterprise.
Drugs, guns and money
“Our job is getting easier,” said DeLong, “because we see the same crooks over and over again. But, to keep them off balance, our officers go out at different times on different days.”
The officers say a suspect couldn’t answer a simple question because these balloons were stuffed in his mouth. We learned they are color-coded: Green for heron, white signifies heroin or cocaine, and pink is typically cocaine.
DeLong held up an evidence bag as he started his first story.
“We saw a person at a pay phone on NE 102nd. Nearby was a Honda Accord ‚Äì these cars are stolen all the time. This guy looked nervous when we pulled up and walked over to the car. I smiled and said, ‘Nice Car.’ He mumbled something; he couldn’t talk. We found out, after we encouraged him to spit them out, it was because he had balloons containing heroin and cocaine stuffed in his mouth.”
Making crime numbers drop
“We work to impact specific crimes that make the [crime statistics] numbers drop,” Passadore said succinctly. “We focus on drug-related crimes; people who sell or take drugs are usually doing other crimes. We’ve been especially trained to notice behavior that signals that something is amiss.”
“But we’re not a drug unit,” DeLong added. “We are a street crime unit.”
This photo shows some the cash, drugs and guns ‚Äì including a sawed-off shotgun ‚Äì which the CRU has taken off the streets of East Portland. (Portland Police CRU Photo)
Passadore recalls when they saw a suspicious couple in a car. “We asked if we could take a look, and found three pounds of marijuana in the car. At the man’s house, we found stolen handguns, including a Tech-9, money counting machine, and other stuff. In the process, we cleared four burglary cases. This guy was stealing from people in the community to purchase drugs and make more money.”
East Portland drug trends
The officers report they’re now seeing an increase of cocaine in outer East Portland. “Meth is still a problem,” Passadore said. “A big problem.”
The average heron user does two or three balloons a day, DeLong explained. “Some will do up to six. We’ve seen some addicts who inject it into their neck because they’ve blown out their arm and leg veins.”
“We’re constantly in the drug houses every day,” continued Passadore. “We’d like it if they all got treatment, but our job is to shut down their business. And, we have our work cut out for us.”
Houses of drug users, and especially “stash houses”, usually have violent crime associated with them. “We get ‘shots fired’ calls and respond to home invasion reports,” explained Passadore. “If we move drug houses out of an area, crimes drop.”
Solving, not moving, crime problems
While the CRU officers work to move crime out of East Portland, the officers say they alert law enforcement agencies in adjoining areas about criminals who may be moving into their area.
“We want to close them down,” Delong stated. “These people are not good neighbors. Their houses look, and smell, like a pig sty.”
Passadore said they work to do more than just disperse problems to other areas. “We break the bonds among people who steal, do drugs, live and ‘crash’ together. If we isolate the leaders, the amount of crime goes way down. When on their own, people tend to do less crime.”
A good example is a guy called “Moke”, Passadore said. “We ran him out of the A-Quality Motel in Powellhurst-Gilbert during the ‘Tired of Tweekers’ campaign. When we ran into him at 122nd and Powell, he was OK. He wasn’t out doing crimes. But he told us if he were back with his friends at A-Quality, he’d be doing crimes today.”
Gangs and drugs
Asked about the connection between gangs and drugs, the officers brought out a figure of Jesus Malverdie.
Officer Passadore introduces the group Jesus Malverdie, the “patron saint” of Mexican drug runners and dealers.
“He is the ‘patron saint’ of Hispanic drug smugglers,” explained Passadore. Although he lived long ago, he is thought of as a ‘Robin Hood’ character. The Hispanic drug culture adopted him as a good luck charm. If we see a photo or figurine Malverdie in a vehicle during a traffic stop, it isn’t ‘probable cause’, but is sure is a good indicator of drug trafficking. In drug houses, we see shrines with offerings of tequila, money, food, and drugs to him.”
Most gangs are in the drug trade to make money, and they make a lot of it by importing and distributing drugs, explained Passidore. “We engage lot of people in conversation. If someone is wearing gang attire, we’ll stop and talk with them. Some of them object, saying we’re targeting them because of their clothing. We say, ‘If you don’t like it, don’t announce yourself by wearing a gang uniform’.”
He continued, saying, “I’ll take a gun off the street ahead of a pound of dope any day. We try to seize guns from gang members.”
East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs shows citizens photos taken at some of the more recent CRU busts. He told the group the only complaint he’s gotten about CRU officers is that they are ‘too nice’ on the street.
CRU crew trains patrol officers
The CRU was originally composed of officers with drug crime experience. “Now we bring mid-career and new officers into the unit,” Delong said. “We teach how to identify drug trends, how to interact with drug dealers, and how to spot criminal behavior.”
East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs said part of the training CRU officers pass along is verbal skills. “I’ve actually gotten complaints from arrested suspects that our CRU officers are ‘too nice’ on the street. These people say our officers are ‘so friendly, I feel like I have to talk with them.”
Statistics tell the CRU story
The six officers and one sergeant who make up the CRU made 2,600 street contacts from June, 2005, through June, 2006, and seized:
- Meth: 5,165 Grams, (11.3 pounds)
- Marijuana: 203 pounds
- Cocaine 9.3 pounds
- Heroin 3.9 oz
- Various prescription drugs: 400 pills
- Firearms: 78 guns
- Cash $195,785
- Vehicles: 212
Want to learn more about how your police work to reduce crime, as well as the fear of crime, in our community? Look for the date of the next Commander’s Forum in our East PDX News Community Calendar.
¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News