‘EPIC’ meeting gives provides updates on two critical outer East Portland crime issues

What are officials doing to reduce prostitution and gang crime problems? See what we found out, by reading this article now …

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs says the new approach to reducing prostitution in outer East Portland is working.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
If you’re fed up with crime in outer East Portland, and are ready to do something about it, there’s a place you can go: East Precinct Involved Citizens, also known by its acronym, as EPIC. Formerly known as the East Portland Block Captains, these neighbors are involved in all kinds of crime-reduction programs.

And, at their bi-monthly meeting, those who attend learn what the police, the district attorney, and the jail system are doing to reduce crime in East Portland.

Update on fighting street prostitution

In the past years, we’ve covered the continuing effort to reduce the prevalence of street-level prostitution that sullies 82nd Avenue of Roses and NE Sandy Boulevard.

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Michael Crebs led off the March 23 EPIC meeting by recapping how the City now deals with street-sold sex.

“When the Prostitution-free Zone ordinances went away, we were concerned that there wouldn’t be anything to replace it,” Crebs began.

“In fact, we have replaced it. Now, when we arrest people for prostitution, whether they be male or female, we send them to the court downtown. If you’ve been convicted once already for a prostitution offence, you have to appear in regular court, not ‘community court’.”

The choices for the accused is to plead guilty, have a trial the judge, or have a trial with a jury. Just getting a hand-slap is no longer an option.

Says judges are getting involved
“We were concerned whether or not the judges would simply place the prostitutes and johns [customers] on probation,” Crebs noted. “But so far, the judges have taken these charges seriously. They have put sanctions on the people who have been found guilty.”

The Commander explained that post-conviction sanctions allow judges to impose conditions on guilty individuals. “The judge can tell the person not to be within a given distance from 82nd Avenue or Sandy Boulevard, and not to associate with known prostitutes, pimps, or johns.”

When the Prostitution Free-zone ordinances were in effect, a suspect – not found guilty in court – was “excluded” from certain areas. However, if they were found to be pandering, they’d typically just get another exclusion notice.

“But, because a sanction is post-conviction,” Crebs continued, “eight of our police officers who are also directed to be ‘officers of the court’ can arrest – and take to jail – anyone found to be in violation of their probation sanctions.”

Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney J.R. Ujifusa says the new program isn’t displacing prostitution, it’s reducing it – by imposing jail sentences and providing treatment.

Violators go to jail
“This new program began on February 17,” pointed out Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney J.R. Ujifusa.

“One of the most prolific female street prostates was convicted and put on probation, with [the location exclusion] conditions. Officers saw her on the street and picked her up – not for violating an exclusion, but for violating her probation. She served 14 days in jail. Then, she was picked up yesterday, and is now serving another 40 days in jail. She will still be in probation, and the conditions will be continued.”

Asked if the new program is effective, Ujifusa commented, “Yes. Police officers are doing their part. The district attorneys are doing their part, to get the prostitutes and johns in front of judges, and to get probation restrictions upon conviction. So far, it’s working.”

Treatment reduces displacement
“Isn’t this just moving prostitution to different neighborhood?” asked an EPIC member.

“No, I think not,” replied Ujifusa. “Along with targeting the worst problems areas and ensuring jail time for violators, there is now a treatment element involved as well.”

The concept is, Ujifusa noted, to help repeat offenders by getting them safe housing, mental health care, drug counseling, rehabilitation, and training – so they can eventually become productive citizens, “instead of being prostitutes in a different area. And if prostitution does move to different area, this program will move to that different area with them.”

Commander Crebs says probation sanctions follow a convict throughout the state.

Can’t run and hide
“If a prostitute moves up 122nd Avenue,” Crebs chimed in, “We go back and tell the judge that she’s moved locations, and ask for additional restrictions. We can respond to prolific prostitutes as they move around. Probation is actually statewide, so if they were to associate with a known prostitute [anywhere in the state], technically it’s a violation of their probation. We can ‘violate’ them if we find them breaking the law, or associating with other prostitutes, pimps, or johns, anywhere.”

Crebs concluded by saying that he’s very pleased with how the program is working, and with the support they’re getting from the court and the District Attorney’s office.

“And, we have a meeting, once a week, with the District Attorney, police, and treatment program. We talk about how each convicted individual is doing, and try to prevent the displacement of prostitution.”

Gang Enforcement Team
targets gang behavior

Portland Police Bureau’s Lt. Mike Leloff, who is with the Tactical Operations Division and Gang Enforcement Team, talks about their efforts to reduce gang violence.

Also at this meeting, Mike Leloff, with the Portland Police Bureau’s Tactical Operations Division and Gang Enforcement Team, talked to the group about recent gang activity in outer East Portland.

Leloff’s presentation included how to recognize the signs and symbols used by gangsters, the origin of gangs, and how the Police Bureau is dealing with the problems.

We had the opportunity to ask Leloff if he has seen an increase in gang activity.

“Yes, it is increasing,” he replied, “but we’re getting on top of it. Recently, during ‘Operation Cool Down’, we got political leaders from both Portland and Gresham involved to make it easier for officers to follow gangsters. We’re opening up our boundaries, like the gangsters have.”

Although Operation Cool Down has ended, Leloff continued, gang enforcement operations haven’t. “We started a new afternoon shift in March, with one sergeant and five officers. They quickly move to areas of gang activity, partnered with ‘HEAT’, the Hotspot Enforcement Action Team, and a similar team in Gresham.”

These teams look for specific sets of illegal gang behavior – instead of targeting individuals, he noted – in north, northeast, and east Portland, and Gresham

Leloff says there are many reasons for the recent increase in gang activity.

Asked why gang activity is on the upswing, Leloff pointed out that there are second and third generation gangsters now on the street. “The kids I was chasing around early in my career, are now getting out of prison, and getting back into the gangster life. Their kids, and sometimes their grandkids, see the gangster life as normal.”

While the economy does impact crime in general, Leloff said, “How much it may influence gaining activity – I’m not an expert there. We have been seeing increases in gang activity since December of 2007.”

Dave Smith, coordinator East Precinct Involved Citizens, welcomes attendees to another EPIC meeting.

How to become an EPIC neighbor
Dave Smith, a volunteer, and the EPIC coordinator, said that their meetings and activities aren’t limited to people involved in the “Block Captain” program.

“‘EPIC’ is for people interested in public safety topics,” Smith said. “I try to find topics that are both interesting and are informative. We try to present information that people wouldn’t normally hear or see anywhere else.”

Smith cited the group’s “field trips” to the Bureau of Emergency Communication – the 911 Center – and more recently, to the Portland Police Bureau’s Mounted Patrol Division, in addition to the presentations.

The next meeting will be on May 27; that keynote address will be delivered by Sergeant Erin Smith, a motorcycle cop with the Traffic Division, Smith noted.

For questions contact Smith at dsmith@portlandpolice.org.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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