Massive police presence calms troubled East Portland neighborhood

See how the cops showed their support for Montavilla neighbors who are fed up with street-level prostitution and drugs, overflowing from 82nd Avenue of Roses …

Officer Kennith Fox, neighbor Marie Hopper, Officers Scherise Hobbs and Matt Schroeder, Dave Hillman of the Mt. Tabor Foot Patrol, Southeast Precinct afternoon shift supervisor Lt. Vince Elmore, and Officer Josh Howery are some of the 200 people who came out to spend time at the Portland Police Bureau’s Mobile Command Unit in Montavilla.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Neighbors who live near a house on the 300 block of SE 76th Avenue told us – and continue to tell us – that they’re fed up with their neighborhood being a haven for drug runners, pimps, and prostitutes. Although police have made multiple raids, and arrested numerous suspects, the open drug deals and open-air prostitute/pimp confrontations continue.

To discourage criminal activity in the area, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) took a novel approach to dealing with the problem last week, on August 29.

When drug buyers and pimps started filtering into the area – ready to party during the holiday weekend – they saw the PPB Mobile Command Center parked at the intersection, and numerous police cars and Traffic Division motorcycles parked throughout neighborhood.

Although the cops were very visible, the scene looked like more like a block party than a police action.

A festive atmosphere
Instead of looking like a SERT callout, refreshments were set out under the Mobile Command Center’s awning, tables were laden with community service information, and Crime Prevention Specialist Katherine Anderson was on hand to answer questions, the intersection had the appearance of a block party.

“We’re waving the ‘community policing flag’ today,” explained Portland Police Bureau Southeast Precinct’s afternoon shift supervisor, Lt. Vince Elmore. “Specifically, we’re addressing some issues here that are negatively impacting the area. We’re having coffee, talking with people in the community, and working with the neighborhood associations, so they can sign up more members to come to their meetings.”

Wants all to feel safe in their neighborhood
One of the activating events, Elmore related, was the story of an elderly life-long resident of the area who was repeatedly confronted by hostile-acting pimps and prostitutes.

“It got so she didn’t want to leave her house,” Elmore continued. “This is unacceptable – not only for this woman, but for all neighbors who live here. So, I’ve made the Mobile Command Center my office for my shift this afternoon. We thank Starbucks and Safeway for donating the refreshments.”

Additionally, Elmore added, the bureau’s presence was a way of endorsing the efforts of community groups working to reduce crime.

Taking a short break from their patrols, a squad from the police bureau’s Traffic Division stops by to talk with neighbors.

‘Montavilla in Action”, acts
“Prostitution creates livability issues,” stresses Fritz Hirsch, a Montavilla resident, and one of the founders of an independent group of neighbors called ‘Montavilla in Action’.

“It’s a public safety issue; many pimps and some prostitutes are dangerous people,” Hirsch proffered. “Their customers, the ‘johns’, are dangerous people; they bring crime to our neighborhoods. Crime and reduced livability brings property values down – and in the end, that should be of concern to the city and county. It’s a multifaceted problem.”

About the cops’ “block party” concept, Hirsch opined, “It shows a willingness for our local government to allocate resources to address this problem.”

“One of the founders of Montavilla in Action, Carol Cima, asks neighbors to sign a petition asking the Portland City Council to reinstate the Prostitution-free Zones.

Neighbor volunteer ‘absolutely thrilled’
“We feel so blessed and honored that our police officers have come and are spending time here,” commented Carol Cima, another of the “Montavilla in Action” founders.

In past years, Cima said, street prostitutes dressed in sweat shirts and jeans. “But now, the gals are strutting around in bustiers, drop-down shoulder blouses in flashy colors, very very short skirts, and four-in heels – blatantly doing their best to attract the johns’ attraction. In front of our home, we’ve counted 18 cars going by in 20 minutes. And, the parkway is littered with used condoms.”

“Our police officers need tools to work with to specifically address the reduction of prostitution,” Cima told us. “We’re circulating a petition asking the Portland City Council to reinstate the Prostitution-free Zones here in East Portland.”

Hard to believe as it may seem, an alleged drug buyer didn’t seem to notice the police presence near the alleged drug house at which he hoped to score dope for his holiday weekend party.

Doper tries to score
How significant is the problem here, just a block north of SE Stark Street? We were told a man we’d seen cruising through the area returned several times throughout the evening until he was stopped by officers. He admitted he was waiting to buy drugs at the alleged “problem” house on the block.

For the sake of these neighbors, we hope the police presence will continue – and that the neighbors will remain vigilant and proactive as they work to reduce crime – and the fear of crime – and improve the livability of their neighborhood.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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