Neighborhood watch programs catching on across city

May 4, 2009

Portland Daily Sun – May 2, 2009

Neighborhood watch programs catching on across city

Succesful program in East Bayside seen as blueprint for other neighborhoods

By Casey Conley
Reporter  [Portland Daily Sun]
casey@portlanddailysun.me  

A year-old East Bayside neighborhood watch program — credited with making residents feel safer and lowering crime — is spawning similar efforts in other parts of the city.

West End and Parkside Neighborhood Associations are both in the process of launching a crime watch while other neighborhood groups have also expressed interest.

Leaders from each of these groups say concerns about property crimes such as thefts and burglaries, along with prostitution and drug dealing, led to a growing sense of unease. Meanwhile, unrelated violent crimes reported in each of the neighborhoods last summer convinced many residents to take a stand.

“Over the past two years, crime has really become more of a problem,” said Chelsea Miller, vice president of the Parkside Neighborhood Association.

She got involved with the association after attending a neighborhood forum that drew more than 100 residents worried about drugs and prostitution. That’s what drew her too: she was fed up seeing armed drug dealers standing in front of her building.

“The neighborhood watch idea came up after East Bayside started theirs. It sounded successful and something we could do that was proactive,” Miller said. “We can’t tell the police what to do or tell the drug dealers what to do. But we can ask residents to take part and be proactive by being the eyes and ears in the neighborhood.”
A Group Effort

The program in East Bayside essentially formed the same way: residents were tired of being afraid to walk at night and many businesses feared becoming targets. Peggy Hinman, a ministry coordinator at the Root Cellar, got the ball rolling about this time last year when she talked to all 52 neighborhood businesses in one day.

“We only had one person say no, and that was because of the drug dealing going on in the neighborhood, they didn’t want retribution,” Hinman said Thursday.

From there the upstart East Bayside Neighborhood Association, led by Belinda Ray and a handful of others, decided to get involved. Ray said the group held “many, many meetings” to figure out how to launch a successful crime watch and how to get people involved. Then they started knocking on doors — hundreds, in fact.

Eventually more than 700 residents got involved by pledging to report crime they see. Ray believes speaking to residents face to face, finding out their concerns and asking them to physically sign up was an important step.

Hundreds of decals were also handed out to make a visual statement across the neighborhood.

“People were very positive,” Ray said Thursday, a day after the group held its very first neighborhood watch meeting, which drew about 15 people. “Whether it’s a real threat or not, it is perceived that the neighborhood is unsafe. But it’s very empowering for people to feel they have a role to play in decreasing crime, watching out for crime, and keeping the neighborhood safe.”
Educating residents

Janine Kaserman, a community liaison with the Portland Police Department stationed at Munjoy Hill Community Policing Center, which includes East Bayside, has helped the group show residents how instrumental they are in preventing crime.

“It has to be the community that buys in. I don’t live in the neighborhood, the police who patrol there don’t live in the neighborhood,” Kaserman said. “They may not know that Joe Schmoe doesn’t live next to you and shouldn’t be going into that building, but you do.”

Beyond just being on the lookout for crime, Kaserman and Ray have reminded to residents time and again that they must report all crimes to the police.

“The whole of a crime watch is getting people to contact the police. So many people are really reluctant to do that,” Ray said What we’re trying to get across is that, it doesn’t matter if you are the 30th person who calls, the police want you to call. And even if you think you’re the 30th, you might be the first.”
Making a difference

East Bayside residents say they’ve noticed a difference in the neighborhood in the past year. “It has gotten better,” said Savannah Simard, 23, who was pushing her one-year-old daughter Keyana in a stroller Thursday evening along East Oxford Street. She feels safe walking at night in the neighborhood now but said there “used to be a lot of violence.”

Mikey Wescott, 27, agreed the neighborhood used to be a lot worse. Even so, he’s not yet sure crime and problems that reached a peak last year have really gone away, or just took a break for the winter.

“This summer will be a great test for [the neighborhood watch] actually,” he predicted.

It’s not just young people who have started to feel safer. Hinman, the Root Cellar coordinator, said she’s hearing more and more that the effort is paying off.

“I don’t feel unsafe in this neighborhood, and basically, that’s because we have built so many relationships,” she said. “Most of the people who live in this neighborhood feel this way.”
An idea starts to spread

Rosanne Graef, president of the West End Neighborhood Association, said they are looking to have some manner of crime watch program up and running by the end of summer. Allowing for a minor tweak here and there, she said their program framework would likely follow the crime watch put together in East Bayside. “Why reinvent the wheel if we already have something that works?”

She and other WENA officials envision the crime watch as one part of a broader campaign to pick up trash, stamp out graffiti and hopefully get more residents to pitch in. “It’s just another chance for involvement and another chance for people to own their neighborhood,” she said.

Miller, the Parkside neighorbood watch coordinator, said they are working with business and seeking donations but hope to begin their neighborhood watch later this spring or early summer. While the kick-off of the group may go largely unnoticed, she expects the results will be felt quickly by residents and criminals.

“It’s not really a tangible thing. I mean, you won’t see people roaming neighborhood with mag lights and batons,” she says. “But it lets residents know something is being done and for people doing illegal activiity, it lets them know someone is watching.”
A sense of community

East Bayside neighborhood officials have used the crime watch to build community and introduce residents to their neighbors. In addition to the association meetings and quarterly crime watch meetings, Ray said, she and others will start going door-to-door again to get more residents signed up. They will also hold a spoken word poetry event, block parties, potluck dinners and maybe even a police versus residents pickup basketball game.

“The activities are designed to get people out and get them to know each other. Someone who is more comfortable in the neighborhood … is more likely to take care of it, is more likely to pick up trash, and call police. A neighborhood that’s cared for, that’s watched over, is a neighborhood with less crime.

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CHIEF CRAIG: I will look to every community member

May 2, 2009

Portland’s 18th Chief of Police:  James Craig 

As we move forward, I will look to every community member for support in assisting us in making a difference in every Portland neighborhood

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

  

 

Police Chief James Craig speaks after being sworn in Friday. Craig emphasized involving officers in the community.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
James Craig is sworn in as Portland’s 18th police chief Friday by City Clerk Linda Cohen in the State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall. He replaces Tim Burton, who left in August.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
New Portland Police Chief James Craig has his badge pinned on his uniform by his wife, Mary, daughter Erica and his smiling mother, Eleanor Craig, after his swearing-in ceremony Friday at Portland City Hall.
 
Portland Press HeraldMay 2, 2009

New chief takes charge

James Craig wants to inspire his officers, strengthen ties with community groups and ‘make a difference’ in the city.

By DAVID HENCH, Staff Writer  [ Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND — Emotion welled up inside James Craig after he was sworn in Friday as Portland’s 18th police chief.

Moments after the ceremony naming him the first African-American to lead the state’s largest municipal police force, Craig recalled his best friend, Randy Simmons, the fellow Los Angeles officer who gave him the nickname “governor” because he knew Craig was firmly set on the leadership track.

Simmons was killed in the line of duty last year. What made Simmons special, Craig recalled, was the work he performed with young people and neighborhood groups. At his funeral, the streets of South Los Angeles were lined with people of all ages mourning the loss of someone who made a difference.

“I have never seen such a going-away for an individual. It was almost presidential,” Craig said.

The experience validated Craig’s emphasis on involving officers in the community they serve. In his final year with the Los Angeles Police Department, Craig honored his friend by starting a boot camp for at-risk youths at a middle school.

In accepting the job as Portland’s new chief, Craig insisted he will be out among the citizens, meeting with community groups, neighborhood leaders and clergy.

“As we move forward, I will look to every community member for support in assisting us in making a difference in every Portland neighborhood,” Craig said.

Craig, 52, comes to Portland after 28 years with the Los Angeles police. He replaces Tim Burton, who left the department in August.

Craig was sworn in at the State of Maine Room in Portland City Hall, where City Clerk Linda Cohen administered the oath of office. Craig’s mother, wife and daughter ceremoniously pinned the chief’s badge to his Portland police uniform, while his father and other family members watched from the audience.

“I’m privileged and humbled by the confidence you’ve placed in me to lead this department,” Craig told the audience of about 100 people, including city leaders, Portland officers and visiting police commanders from other departments.

Craig thanked his parents, James Craig Sr. and Eleanor Craig, for “providing me the guidance and inspiration of realizing my lifelong dreams of achieving excellence and never giving up.”

James Craig Sr., who was a reserve officer in Detroit in the 1960s and a member of the Military Police when he served in the Army, said afterward that he felt “great” about his son’s accomplishment. Eleanor Craig said she was very proud.

“He wanted to go to the top. That was his goal,” she said.

Craig praised Deputy Chief Joseph Loughlin for his leadership of the department while the city searched for a new chief.

Loughlin said later that the department is in good hands under Craig and he’s looking forward to working with him.

“He’s educated, he has a great background, and he has a great sense of humor,” which Loughlin said is an important survival tool in the often stressful job.

Craig joins the department amid a fair degree of turmoil. City budget problems have led to a proposal that the police unions accept a wage freeze to avoid layoffs.

Also, officers shot and killed a Sudanese refugee last weekend after, according to police, he pulled a gun on them.

Craig said it is tragic whenever someone is killed, but that the event may provide an opportunity to forge relationships with Portland’s Sudanese community. Craig plans to meet in the coming week with Sudanese leaders and to hold a broader meeting soon for all members of that community.

Craig has said community forums with neighborhood groups, clergy and others will be a central component of his strategy in developing a rapport between Portland’s citizens and the police who serve them.

The department also is recovering from the deaths in the past year of two popular officers, Sgts. Robert Johnsey and Richard Betters, and its finance director, Mary McClaran.

Craig said he plans to start his tenure by meeting with the men and women of the department and riding with officers to get to know the city and the issues officers are called to respond to.

Craig comes across as warm and approachable. Wearing his new Portland police uniform, he stood at the door to the State of Maine Room, shaking hands and welcoming people as they arrived for the swearing-in ceremony.

He also will be a strong leader, said City Manager Joseph Gray. He said Craig’s leadership qualities were apparent when Gray first interviewed him and were one of the key reasons he selected Craig to be the next chief.

Craig told the city’s police officers that he hopes to inspire them to be a model for departments across the country.

“We will constantly find ways of making our work more efficient, safe and responsive to those we so humbly serve,” Craig said. “As we serve, we will always show the highest level of professionalism and compassion for all people.”

Craig’s arrival was welcomed as a significant moment in the city’s history by many in the audience.

Rachel Talbot Ross, president of Portland’s NAACP chapter and a ninth-generation Mainer, said Craig’s induction as police chief is inspirational.

“It shows we’ve come quite a long way. No matter what your background is, you get to witness history and be proud of that,” she said.

She noted that Craig is joining the department at a tumultuous time and the job won’t be easy, as evidenced by the anxiety felt in the Sudanese community over last weekend’s shooting.

“Any time members of the community are fearful and feel distrust or that there are biases, then there’s a lot of work to be done,” she said. “I know members of the community are eager to support Chief Craig and work with him and be as supportive as possible, but there are still a lot of real issues and real challenges in our community that need to be addressed.”

Officers say they are eager to draw on Craig’s experience in a large department.

“It’s been a long time since we had a real outside perspective. I think it’s healthy for any organization to have a different perspective,” said Lt. Bill Preis, head of the daytime directed-patrol team. “In police work, the LAPD has often been on the cutting edge, and I think the officers are excited.”

Craig’s first day on the job will be Monday. He is renting a home while his wife, Mary Craig, tends to her business in Los Angeles before moving to Portland.

As he prepared to take his family on a tour of the police station and then out to Portland’s islands, Craig said his friend Simmons would have been proud of his accomplishment.

“He was one of my biggest cheerleaders,” Craig said. “I know he’s looking down and smiling on this day. I feel his presence.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

 

Copyright © 2009 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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