Neighborhood watch programs catching on across city

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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