Visiting Afghanistan officials learn how East Portlanders work with cops, to increase public safety

Take a look at this unique visit at which leaders from a far-away land – almost daily in the news – sat down in Hazelwood, to discover how outer East Portlanders help reduce crime by cooperating with police …

Outer East Portland Crime Prevention Specialist Teri Poppino [far right] leads a discussion with Afghan officials about how neighbors cooperate with police to help keep our streets safe.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
On the national TV news, we often see leaders from far-away countries – such as in the Mid-east – talking about problems they face in their region of the world.

But, on July 28, district governors, tribal chiefs, and provincial councilmen from Afghanistan stopped by the East Portland Neighborhood Office in the Hazelwood Neighborhood, to learn more about life and public safety in outer East Portland.

With the aid of an interpreter, the guests gain a better understanding of how our state, county, and local governments work with our citizens – although some of the visitors spoke excellent English.

World Affairs Council of Oregon’s International Visitor Leadership Program organized the informal meeting with the 10 Afghan leaders.

“We were giving our guests an opportunity to learn how public-private partnerships and he Office of Neighborhood Involvement works with law enforcement to prevent crime,” explained the Council’s Mariko Gilman. “But overall, the visitors come to meet Americans of different ages and backgrounds, and learn about the traditions and ideas which characterize the United States, and make it unique. This person-to-person program builds international friendships, and promotes international understanding.”

Neighbors Ron and Jan Clemenson listen as the discussion continues.

Neighbors, including Centennial Community Association’s Vice Chair, Ron Clemenson, and his wife Jan, were on hand to share what it’s like to live in outer East Portland.

Clementson then asked, “What your feelings are about our military being in your country? Are we doing more harm than good?”

A regional governor and senator agreed that “This is an involved complicated debate. We cannot answer this question in a few words; it requires a long explanation.”

Nodding in agreement, Clemenson signaled he was okay with letting the question drop.

US State Department simultaneous interpreter Noorulbasar Durrani [standing] relays questions and answers between the visiting delegation and the group.

However, a leader from another region spoke up, through the interpreter: “I will add something,” he said emphatically. “Yes, Afghanistan needs support from the international community, especially from the United States. With eight or nine years of international presence [in our country], many were expecting lots of things from it; yet, nothing has happened.

“The main thing is that no one has worked on external influences. Instead, they work on internal influences. The problem is coming in from the outside the country. I would suggest the best way the international community could help is to go to work on external influences and stop them from coming in.”

East Portland Crime Prevention Coordinator Rosanne Lee tells how they work with landlords to improve community safety.

Describes multi-family dwelling safety program
Talking about how she and other Crime Prevention Coordinators help increase community safety here was Rosanne Lee. Talking about the City’s Enhanced Safety Properties Program, Lee explained how it is meant to encourage and support landlords and property managers in taking measures to keep their properties safe and livable.

“There are three parts to the program,” Lee told the group. “First is the landlord training program offered by the City. Then, being certified requires that the participants meet CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) standards. Finally, landlords are required to share crime prevention strategies with the residents.”

The delegation also met Pat Gold, the director of Allied Health Services East, the community methadone clinic. There was an in-depth conversation about illegal drugs – specifically, how law enforcement and the community deal with drug-addicted people, and illegal drug trafficking.

We learned that, in Afghanistan, drug use is prohibited under Sharia Islamic Law. Because it is, at the same time, a cultural, religious, and legal issue, open drug use is not prevalent; it is very much underground. “There are very, very serious sanctions for those caught using drugs,” a delegated commented.

Portland Police Bureau Neighborhood Resource Officers and other community service organization representatives were also on hand to speak about their specialties.

The delegation gathers in the EPNO patio for photos after the meeting.

After the meeting, we asked the US State Department simultaneous interpreter, Noorulbasar Durrani, why the delegates appeared to trust his translation. “I am from a well-known, and well-respected family that has been prominent in the country’s leadership. We all know I would do nothing to dishonor my family’s name by intentionally inaccurately interpreting for them.”

Says makes us better ‘citizens of the world’
We asked the local organizer, East Portland Crime Prevention Specialist Teri Poppino, why she enjoys hosting these international exchange sessions.

> Read our story about a Chinese delegation’s visit, earlier this year: CLICK HERE.

“It’s important, because we live in the ‘greater world’,” Poppino replied. “And in outer East Portland, many of our new neighbors are immigrants from these countries. It gives us better insight into who they are, what their lives are like, what their beliefs are, what their cultures are. It makes us better, more empathic, more well-rounded citizens.”

The give-and-take with delegations – such as this group of Afghan officials in the EPNO courtyard – helps promote better relations globally, organizers say.

During these meetings, Poppino added, “We’re talking about some of the real problems, and perceived problems, in our area. We also share how, by working together, we not only eliminate problems but we dispel myths.”

Summing up the session, Poppino concluded, “It’s more than a give and take; these meetings create synergy that is greater than the sum of those meeting in the room. When these people first came in, many of them appeared very reserved. By the end, there were smiles, they looked more relaxed, and I felt we really shared something special.”

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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