Precinct shuffle brings new faces, attitudes to Southeast

From the July 10 edition of Street Roots

One month since the Portland Police Bureau’s June 11 consolidation of inner southeast Portland into Central Precinct, no one is quite sure what lasting effect the consolidation will have on policing in inner southeast Portland.

“In terms of service delivery, there’s no change,” says Central Precinct Captain Mark Kruger.

Officers formerly reporting to Southeast Precinct are continuing to patrol the same geographic area they patrolled before the consolidation, but they are now part of Central Precinct.

That is a relief to the neighborhood advocates, who will take as much time as needed to praise their neighborhood officers for the work they do in the largely residential area comprising inner southeast Portland. (The boundaries are the Willamette River, Burnside Avenue, 39th Avenue and the Multnomah/Clackamas county line.)

“We have worked really hard to build up relationships,” says Valerie Chapman, the pastoral administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Church. “Officers know who people are and who we are, and what people need.”

But the consolidation presents another challenge to St. Francis, which provides lunch and a day center for the homeless: How to work with the police as they begin to more strictly enforce the city’s anti-camping and no-structures ordinances, sweeping homeless people and their camps.Seasonal sweeps are nothing new to the St. Francis area, which has long been known as a gathering place for homeless people. Camps swell in the early summer and Rose Festival time, and complaints from residents and businesses grow, pressuring the police to respond.

Officer Mike Castlio, who has patrolled the Buckman neighborhood around St. Francis for the past 25 years, says that Southeast Precinct police would encourage campers to have their tents and camps taken down before businesses opened, and to make an effort to have a low impact on the area around them. Describing the method as “sporadic,” Castlio said that Southeast Precinct officers only dealt with camping when complaints mounted.

“Police in Southeast have been fairly patient with campers, all things considered,” says Jarvis Allen, a JOIN outreach worker.

“Southeast hadn’t been taking any consistent action regarding whether or not (tents are) allowed,” Kruger says. “Southeast has, over time, chosen to do it one fashion, and Central Precinct has been doing it slightly differently.”

Kruger refused to call Central Precinct’s method of dealing with camps “strict,” or describe it with another adjective.

“I would say that what we’re doing is trying to develop a consistent approach to dealing with the camping population on both sides of the Willamette River,” Kruger says.

Beginning the morning of June 30, officers began patrolling the area around St. Francis and Water Avenue, another area where campers congregate.

Dave Bailey, 50, who is homeless, said 10 unmarked squad cars parked around St. Francis that day. Sometimes shaking tents to wake people, officers told people to pack up their camps and move or be cited for violating the anti-camping ordinance and have their property seized.

“They’re trying to get us out of the river area,” Bailey says. “They’re moving people en masse.”

Bailey also said that the officers were asking people who were parking and sleeping in their cars to move them.

“This (sweep) definitely has a different tenor than in the past,” says Allen. “The police have made clear to people that it’s going to be a different approach as well. They’re not going to tolerate the structures and tents anymore.”

“Today, if you went around St. Francis, there isn’t a tent to be seen,” Castlio says, with some amazement and relief in his voice.

Castlio doesn’t see the recent sweep as ratcheting up of enforcement, but rather the result of more resources and manpower now that inner southeast Portland is consolidated into Central Precinct.

“It’s been managed differently,” Castlio says. “I think the management here has just put a plan together and implemented it. I get the impression that this is going to be more of a constant, and not a sporadic thing.”

The Portland Police Bureau announced earlier this spring that it would reduce the number of precincts from five to three. The consolidation is projected to save the city $3.6 million.

Campers aren’t the only population to feel the effects of inner southeast Portland being policed according to Central Precinct’s policies.

Romeo Sosa, the executive director of VOZ, the migrant worker’s advocacy organization that operates Portland’s day labor site on Grand Avenue, says he’s afraid that the staff change will erase years of work by VOZ to create a dialogue with officers and improve the image of the day laborer.

“Not every one of them are drug dealers. Not every one of them drink. Not every one of them is loitering,” he says. “The perception of the police is that all of them are the same.”

“We want to cooperate,” Sosa continues. “We’re still confused with who is going to work with us still.”

While Kruger did not say that those populations would be more of a target of police scrutiny in the past, he did say that crime issues prevalent in Southeast Portland — drug dealing, car prowling and small thefts — were related to the presence of those groups.

“There are criminal problems with the transient nature of the people coming in and out of that area,” Kruger says.

Marc Jolin, JOIN’s executive director, thinks the police will have to take into consideration the differences between downtown and Southeast Portland in order to fairly respond to campers and other groups. With less foot traffic and the different combination of businesses and residential areas, inner southeast Portland is affected differently by camps, homeless individuals and other groups also found downtown. Jolin also says that there is less competition for public spaces than in downtown.

“Over time, there might be some recognition of the dynamics of homelessness and camping in downtown and Southeast,” Jolin says. “It remains to be seen how that plays itself out.”

By Amanda Waldroupe, Contributing Writer

One response to “Precinct shuffle brings new faces, attitudes to Southeast

  1. It is a fact that the majority of the smash and grabs, petty thefts from residences (including stealing recycling from containers set at the curb, which are the property of the hauler – there’s a $500 fine per incident), are perpetrated by transients. I have watched many times as individuals pushing stolen shopping carts (yes, they are stolen, they are not the property of the homeless, but of the stores that own them) ply the streets of the southeast, stealing recycling, but also clearly casing cars and homes for opportunities. I have seen them looking deliberately into cars and peering around fences and into garages as they walk through our neighborhoods. I have grainy late night footage of transients with shopping carts breaking into my car and other neighbor’s cars.

    Are all homeless criminals? Of course not; only those who commit crimes are criminals, and that, sadly, is the majority. Talk to almost any of the homeless population in this city, and they will freely admit to having committed crimes at one time or another. They justify their behavior, claiming no other choice, but that doesn’t change the fact that they steal to survive, or to feed addictions. Does this make their lives less worthwhile than those who own or rent homes, and have jobs? No, but they certainly aren’t contributing to the quality of life for those who do, and they represent an annoyance at best, and a genuine threat at worst.

    I know, these are the ramblings of an intolerant, conservative law and order Republican. Wrong. I am a Democrat and a liberal. I am politically active. I have worked directly with a number of homeless to try to help them. The truth is, with few exceptions, they don’t want to get off the street, or acquire a job and a home. They are, in some strange way, content with having almost nothing to lose, and having to answer to nobody. If offered help, they will use you. They will say they want to work, then fail to follow through. When pointed to agencies that are set up to help them, they usually pass on the opportunity.

    Of course, if you pay a visit to one of the shelters in this town, you might not blame them. Shelters are little better than a wherehouse for humans. They are set up in racks and rows, with no privacy, and no dignity. Most jails have better conditions.

    The bottom line is this: there is no simple answer to the problem of homelessness. First, many don’t want to be relieved of their homelessness. They have adapted to and embrace it as a lifestyle. They enjoy the freedom of being able to indulge in alcoholism and drug addiction without any real resistance. They revel in their plight and the sympathy it gains them, just as much as they rejoice in the justification it gives them for being angry at everything and everyone. Second, there is a propensity in this town to see the homeless as victims, while many homeless, in many case, are perpetrators, and the homeowners of the town the victims.

    It should come as no surprise to the homeless population, or those who serve them, that many lump the entire homeless population into one category, and want them gone from the streets. Perhaps it is time for the homeless population to take responsibility for their own actions, and those of their fellow homeless. Maybe if they would police themselves, the police would not be called upon to do so. When the individuals that make up a society abdicate their responsibility to perpetuate acceptable norms, then go further, and justify the unacceptable behavior of the nihilistic, apathetic and anarchistic element of society, then expect the police to deal with the problem, only conflict can result.

    If you are homeless, don’t pee on someone’s doorway. Don’t leave your empty 44’s all over the place. Don’t leave your used syringes in the parks. Don’t get drunk, argue and intimidate passers by. Don’t demand money from people, then swear at them when they decline to give. Don’t steal. Otherwise, maybe you get what you have coming to you. It is not a crime to be homeless. It is a crime to commit crimes to support a lifestyle choice of homelessness. If you want to get off the street, there are plenty of resources to help you. But, you have to want to, and you have to make an effort.

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