Hazelwood neighbor fosters new ‘Watch’ groups

Find out why this outer East Portland resident decided to ‘stop complaining and start organizing’, for community safety …

Here, on the sidewalk in front of a long-vacant house on their block in the Hazelwood neighborhood are William Bowman and Andrew Bowman, and mom Sally Bowman, with next door neighbor Cynthia Howell.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Shootings and murders in summer of last year, and into the fall months, such as those detailed in this story about the events of September 25, 2015 [CLICK HERE], got outer East Portland neighbors writing about public safety concerns on social media sites last year.

“Last year, after a number of unfortunate incidents, people on Nextdoor were complaining about the lack of police, lack of [public safety] resources, and other problems in our neighborhoods,” recalled long-time resident Robin Spencer.

“I wrote online that people should ‘get off your sofas and do something about it’, instead of complaining,” Spencer told East Portland News.

City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Wells presents a new Neighborhood Watch sign to the Chair of the new East Portland Communities Against Crime, Robin Spencer.

Then, Spencer said she realized it was up to her to find a way to get neighbors more involved in their own public safety. She became a member of the East Portland Action Plan (EPAP), and with the support of EPAP Advocate Lore Wintergreen, she formed East Portland Communities Against Crime (EPCAC).

“We were a little surprised when, promoting our first meeting via social media, about 30 people came to Pizza Baron in October,” Spencer said. Two crime prevention specialists from the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, Celeste Carey and Mark Wells, promoted the Bureau’s Neighborhood Watch program.

At their second meeting, held in January, once again some 30 people came to learn more about the Neighborhood Watch program. “My husband and I said we’d sponsor purchasing the first two Neighborhood Watch signs for groups who signed up,” Spencer said.

Crime Prevention’s Mark Wells and EPCAC Chair Robin Spencer begin to install the first of the Neighborhood Watch signs.

Hazelwood neighbor Sally Bowman was the first to raise her hand and accept the offer to start a “Block Watch” group as part of a Neighborhood Watch program.

“We’ve lived here, very close to Lincoln Park, for six years,” Bowman said. “When the house next door was foreclosed, trouble began. We’ve repeatedly dealt with squatters and all sorts of crime happening right next door.

“We called the police so many times – but they weren’t able to take care of that,” Bowman added. “One of the things we learned from ONI’s Mark Wells is how to talk to the police, and learn what information they need to have.”

Cynthia Howell, next-door neighbors to the Bowman family, said the EPCAC gave her a way to start networking with other concerned people in outer east Portland neighborhoods.

“This was a really nice neighborhood when we moved in 28 years ago,” Howell told East Portland News. “But now, with the changes along the Division Street corridor, there’s a lot more crime in the neighborhood, there’s more vacant housing, and an influx of apartments. It’s made things kind of rough for neighbors.”

But, after organizing their block, forming a Neighborhood Watch, Howell said she feels more optimistic about her beloved street. “If something gets stolen from our neighbors, we alert our group to be on the lookout; if someone was seen rifling through someone’s garage, or stealing somebody’s mail, or transients are causing problems – we now know what to do.”

One of the most important things she learned, Howell said, was to file a police report when a crime occurs. “Even if it’s a garden gnome stolen out of your yard, report it – doing this triggers more police presence.”

Putting up a Neighborhood Watch sign is a symbol that area residents are working together to reduce crime in their area.

City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Wells smiled, as these new Block Watch members were about to mount the Neighborhood Watch sign on their street.

“It’s exciting for me to see!” Wells said. “When I met them, they were fearful of crime, and were not happy where their neighborhood was going. And now, after the training, it’s good to see them feeling much more encouraged. They still have issues to work on, but now they know that they’re in it together.”

The central concept of Neighborhood Watch, Wells said, “is getting neighbors together, making sure they know who each other is, how to communicate with each other, and how to reach out to the various city agencies.”

Residents of this street gather to celebrate their new Neighborhood Watch sign.

They’ve established about 500 Neighborhood Watch areas around the city, Wells said. “It starts with one person, who will give one hour of their time. From there we generally get 50% to 60% of the households on the street coming to the initial training and starting the Neighborhood Watch.

“It’s not a lot of work,” Wells added. “But, as you see, the effort can be very empowering and can hopefully last a long time.”

Contact Mark Wells 503-823-278, or e-mail him at mark.wells@portlandoregon.gov. Or, read more about the Neighborhood Watch program at its official webpage: CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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