Surge in violence near MAX line spurs neighbor crime summit

Neighbors in the Centennial and Glenfair neighborhoods aren’t getting mad about crime – they’re taking action against it. Learn about the steps they’re taking …

Harry Jackson, Mayor Tom Potter’s Office; Nicole Robbins, Asst. DA; Lonny Roberts, County Commissioner; Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs; Captain Tim Girkman, Gresham Police Department; and East Crime Prevention Specialists Teri Poppino and Rosanne Lee. Glenfair’s Donn-Lynn Kublick is introducing the panel.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Organizers didn’t say it was the alleged baseball bat beating of 71-year-old Laurie Chilcote by 15 year-old Abel Antonio Chavez-Garcia that pressed them into action.

But the incident was still fresh on the minds of citizens who filtered in to the November 13 Neighborhood Crime Summit co-sponsored by the Centennial Community Association and by the Glenfair Neighborhood Association.

Glenfair Neighborhood Association chair, Donn-Lynn Kublick, says rocks smashing her house’s windows led her to become more involved.

Rocks through her windows
The new chair of Glenfair’s association, Donn-Lynn Kublick, began the meeting by telling the group – which numbered more than 100 citizens – why she decided to get involved.

“I’ve had rocks thrown through my front and back windows,” said Kublick. “Another time, in my front yard, I heard someone yelling, ‘Don’t pull out the gun.’ I hit the deck and grabbed the cat. Yet another time, I got a call at 4:30 in the morning; a neighbor is telling me people were going into my back yard. It is scary. My stories are just a little of what has been going on in the area.”

Kublick introduced the panel, saying they were there to inform and educate neighbors and regarding how they can make their neighborhoods calm and safe.

“I have one more thing,” Kublick added. “Next door, my neighbors came here from Bosnia. They told me stories about how dangerous it was to live in their home country. After living here seven years, they moved last month. They said it was too dangerous in this area. That really tells a story.

“I know that, as neighbors, if we stick together, take suggestions from our crime reduction professionals, we can be safe here.”

Setting the stage
Providing further context for the meeting, organizer Ron Clemenson, vice chair of the Centennial Community Association, thanked Parklane Christian Church for hosting the event.

“We’ve had meetings [regarding crime and drugs] here in the past. We talked about crime. We all have our stories; we all have our reasons for being here.”

The problem doesn’t stem from lack of police concern, added Clemenson. “The problem is, our police aren’t getting the support they need. And people who are causing problems and continue on the road to crime; so often, they don’t go to jail.

“My comment is this: we don’t want to become like a little Los Angeles. I’m afraid we’re progressing toward that.”

Commander Michael Crebs, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct, speaks of his bureau’s efforts to reduce crime. PLEASE SEE THE END OF THIS REPORT to learn the about crime statistics along the MAX line.

The police report
The first speaker was Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs.

“Authorized staffing is 136 officers in the patrol division. We’re at 105 officers; we can’t find officers to fill the positions. This is a nationwide problem. People don’t want to work nights, be put in dangerous situations, and sometimes, get spit upon.

“We need your help. During the day we have 12 officers on patrol, 16 during the afternoon, and about 11 working overnight. Even if we can’t get to you right away, every call is registered. Our staffing is determined by the number of calls for service we get.”

Asked about the demise of Prostitution-free and Drug-free Zones ordinances, Crebs commented, “This doesn’t mean we will stop enforcing the law. We identify chronic offenders, and they are booked into jail. A small handful of people are doing most of the crimes.”

Regarding incidents along the MAX line, especially at the 162nd Avenue station, Crebs told the group, “During the late summer, we had a lot of crime going there: Shootings, rock throwing, and fights. We’re working with the Gresham Police Department to saturate the area with law enforcement officers.

“MAX doesn’t cause crime; but some criminals do ride MAX. We’re working to stop the crime they commit. And, We are working to have landlords evict people who are causing the problems. Evicting one bad tenant out of one complex can help.”

Gresham Police Department’s Captain Tim Girkman says they want their MAX crime-reduction missions to be more than a “feel-good” effort.

Gresham police join the effort
Staffing problems also plague the Gresham Police Department, reported Captain Tim Girkman of that bureau.

“We have 120 sworn positions – this is about 1.2 officers per thousand population. It is the lowest ratio of any city our size in the state. And, not all of those positions are currently filled.”

On any given day, Girkman added, their department takes about 120 calls for service. “We have 23 officers working hard day in and day out. We want to provide satisfactory service.”

Regarding the crime at the 162nd Avenue MAX station, Girkman said, “We don’t want this to be a temporary ‘feel good’ mission. Our commitment is to make this a permanent commitment to service. Bad guys say that they don’t like hanging out there anymore because there is too many police there.”

In addition to having Gresham Police officers riding MAX, Girkman stated their department was working with East Precinct to develop an “Action Team” plan made of officers from both agencies.

He also made a pitch to Gresham residents, he added, “When you look over proposed police funding levies, look at the wide range of positives that will come out of it. We want to be the kind of police force you want and need.”

Multnomah County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts told the group that the entire justice system – from corrections to prosecution – needs to be better supported.

Roberts expresses County’s view
Multnomah County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts lauded the efforts of the police bureaus.

He added, “But County corrections needs be studied. When you put someone in jail, they have to go somewhere, and have to be supervised by someone. We are currently 95 corrections officers short.”

Roberts added, “We’ve got to back the District Attorney’s office, courts, and others in the justice system to get better public safety. We suffer, out on the east side, because of the Portland’s gentrification. Urban renewal has caused a large migration of people into East County. And, some bad folks move on out along with the good people.”

Roberts went on, saying that tax abatements granted by the city reduce funding the county gets to provide justice services. “And, Wapato is still closed. We have to open the jail so we don’t keep having to matrix out prisoners.

“The basis of a lot of the crimes is drugs,” Roberts went on. “When the state legislature made cold pills hard to get, it cut down on meth labs. But, it certainly didn’t stop meth addiction. The traffic from the southern border — 80% comes from Mexico – more than fills the need.

“We calculate that meth-caused problems cost every household about $300 a year. But what you can’t put a price on is the cost of a man being hit in the head with a baseball bat.”

Harry Jackson, a recently retired Portland Police Bureau lieutenant, says accountability – by both parents and kids – will reduce gang-related problems in outer East Portland.

Retired officer blames lack of accountability
Retired Portland Police Bureau lieutenant Harry Jackson was next to speak. He currently works on gang-related issues out of Mayor Tom Potter’s office.

“I deal with youth violence. After 30 years of law enforcement, it seems that youth problems are getting worse. It isn’t just formal gangs. We see groups of kids coming from games and parties who ‘text message’ and get into trouble. It takes a lot of [law enforcement] personnel to deal with 500 kids who simply won’t go home after an event.”

The problem stems from a lack of parental accountability, Jackson told the group.

“Not only do we need to get our young people to be accountable for their behavior, we need to have parents take responsibility – and be accountable – for the actions of their kids. Parents must know where their kids are; they must make sure their kids are in school – and home after curfew.”

The answer is for parents to be involved with their children – not just “talk at them”, Jackson added.

East Portland Crime prevention Coordinator, Teri Poppino, says working with landlords in the area to bring in better tenants will help reduce problems in the 162nd Avenue and E. Burnside Street area.

Helping landlords reduce and prevent crime
Crime prevention coordinator, Teri Poppino spoke regarding the work she’s done helping property owners and managers densely populated in the 162nd Avenue and E. Burnside Street area.

“When you have densely populated areas where people are ‘warehoused’, they get cranky. There is not enough space in this area for families.”

Poppino said that a meeting two weeks before, among nine property managers and justice system representatives, was a good start. “We suggest they tighten up their background checks, make ‘watertight’ rental agreements, and enforce them, to get rid of people causing problems.”

In general, Poppino suggested neighbors form Neighborhood Watch groups. “Criminals feel safer when they believe no one is watching them. Check the street now and then; if something doesn’t look ‘normal’, call 911 and report it.”

Changing MAX platforms could lower crime
East Portland’s other crime prevention coordinator, Rosanne Lee, said she is working with TriMet regarding the design of the stations, including improved lighting and landscaping.

“Although [TriMet officials] haven’t committed to them, we came up with a list of changes, including keeping shrubbery low, trimming tree branches, and perhaps removing some walls that limit visibility.”

The new I-205 MAX stations will be transparent and less hospitable to loitering, Lee added.

Ron Clemenson, vice chair of the Centennial Community Association, leads the question-and-answer session.

Questions and answers
What followed was a question-and-answer session during which individuals shared their experiences and asked questions of panel, led by Ron Clemenson.

A neighbor asked Nicole Robbins, East Portland Assistant District Attorney, how more criminals could be sent to jail.

Robbins responded, “In order to prosecute, we need to have victims and witnesses willing come to court to testify. Cases get ‘set over’, and this means they must come back again. It can take from three months to a year for a case to track through the system.

“If you want results, you have to be willing to testify – which means that if you witness a crime, you must to leave your telephone number so we can contact you. Criminals learn that most people won’t testify; all that happens to them is that they get displaced for a couple of hours. You have to be willing to get involved, if you want to solve the problem.”

MAX line crime rate skyrocketing? Actually, no …
At this meeting, we asked Commander Crebs if the rate of violent crime has taken a dramatic upturn along the MAX line. “That’s a good question. Let’s get the statistics.”

A week later, we joined Crebs at East Precinct to look at the numbers and graphs that represent how much voilent crime has taken place near the MAX line in outer East Portland.

We were both surprised to see, that in East Precinct, over the past five years until present, the rate of violent crime within a quarter-mile either side of the MAX line has remained relatively steady. In some areas, the crime rate has slightly decreased, in others it has slightly increased.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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