East Portland volunteers bust crime with hands-on ‘community policing’

Read, and learn about ordinary citizens who are taking a “bite out of crime” along the streets where they live ‚Ķ and why you should join them ‚Ķ

Block captains from the Madison South neighborhood — Geneva McArtor, Pal Mermwore, Paul Barton, Lisa and Frank Walsh — are joined by Lents neighborhood block captains John and Judy Welch (partially hidden by the arm of BOEC’s Laura Wolf), as they tour the Bureau of Emergency Communications, also known as the “9-1-1 Center”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Most people agree that “community policing” is a good idea ‚Äì but few really understand the meaning of the term.

From the perspective of the Portland Police Bureau, it means interfacing closely with neighbors and businesses to help reduce crime, and the fear of crime.

“The other part of ‘community policing’ is us, the community,” is how volunteer Dave Smith, Coordinator, East Precinct Block Captain Program, put it to us.

“Part of making the streets on which we live safer is taking personal responsibility,” Smith continued. “The ‘Block Captain’ program trains ordinary people to help reduce crime directly in our neighborhoods.”

Being a Block Captain doesn’t mean one turns into a neighborhood spy or snitch, Smith told us. “We’re just ordinary citizens who are willing to ‘look out’ for our block and our part of our neighborhood. We simply are looking to prevent crime problems before they get a foothold.”

Not a “Trunk stocker”
Smith, a kindly-looking man with a quick smile, told us he didn’t set out to become the Block Captain Program Coordinator. After he retired, Smith said he asked to become part of the volunteer group who restock supplies in the trunks of East Portland officer’s patrol cars. “Commander Greg Hendricks said that if I wanted to volunteer for something, he had another job for me. They gave me a desk, even though I’m not a police officer, and put me to work.”

Specifically, Smith acts as the go-between for Block Captains and the Portland Police Bureau. Part of his volunteer position is the training of potential Block Captains. Also, he coordinates and hosts bimonthly meetings for East Precinct Block Captains.

Block Captain coordinator Dave Smith (second from left) listens to BOEC’s Laura Wolf as she explains the organization’s role in public safety.

Captains tour 9-1-1 Center
Some of the monthly meetings are field trips, at which the Block Captains are exposed to the inner workings of the public safety system.

At the last meeting a group of Block Captains visited the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC), also known as the 9-1-1 Center in Lents.

The tour was led by Laura Wolf, public communications coordinator for BOEC. Wolf first gave the group an overview of BOEC’s mission and policies. A tour of the call center floor followed. Block Captains witnessed, first-hand, call takers receiving calls of all kinds–and saw how the dispatchers, on the other side of the large room, quickly sent police, fire or medical personnel to deal with those emergent situations.

Behind locked doors
BOEC is a high-security facility. We asked Wolf why these neighbors were granted a tour. “It is important to get the message out about what we do,” she said, “and how they are trained. Not only can the Block Captains pass the information on to their neighbors, they help the community be better prepared for an emergency.”

The concept Wolf stressed is to know the difference between emergency and non-emergency situations. “911 should only be used to report a fire, stop a crime, or save a life. There is a limited number of 911 trunk lines and operators. If you’re using 911 inappropriately, someone with a true emergency will have to wait on line ‚Äì it may cost a life.”

After the meeting, some of the Block Captains shared what they had learned with us.

John Welch from Lents told us, he enjoyed seeing how the call center works. “The tools they have are fantastic. At the same time you’re calling in, they are already sending the information to dispatchers by computers.”

Donna Dionne, an outer East Portland resident and president of the Midway Business Association, said she thought it was interesting to see how operators dispatched the calls. “I can see why one should call only in case of an emergency. Non-emergency calls bog down the system, and it could cost a life.”

Smith said this field trip, and his other programs, give Block Captains information they otherwise wouldn’t get. “Our meeting here at the 911 center helps them understand the issues involved with the 911 dispatchers. There seems to be some negative press when there is a misunderstanding or perceived rudeness by a communicator. But seeing the environment, the pressure, you can’t help but know our emergency communicators are working to make the community better.”

Next Meeting: Don’t be an ID theft victim
You don’t have to be a Block Captain to attend Smith’s meetings. The September session will be “Identity Theft: What it is, and how to avoid becoming a victim”.

“Identity theft has become the crime-of-choice for meth addicts,” Smith explained. “This crime can cause enormous financial distress for its victims. East Precinct Officer Barbara Glass is an expert in the area of identity theft.  She will explain how this crime is committed, and also offer advice on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.”

Block Captain Meeting is Wednesday September 27, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at the East Precinct Community Room at 737 SE 106th Ave.

When we asked what message he’d like to convey to East Portland residents, Smith replied, “Get personally involved in public safety. Help reduce crime, and the fear of crime ‚Äì right where you live”.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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