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Mayor, chief set ambitious new course in law enforcement

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Gresham mayor Shane Bemis speaks at the dedication of the new Rockwood Public Safety Facility.

Imagine the mug shot of a recently arrested murder suspect. Now imagine his first-grade class picture.

Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis posed these images to law enforcement officials, politicians and community members gathered Thursday with standing room only for the Rockwood Public Safety Facility dedication.

“Picture that face from the mug shot as a 6-year-old kid with a toothless smile and a haircut, more into Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and the Wiggles than anything else, not yet lost, not yet burning with hate and desperation,” Bemis said. “In the end, that mug shot became the ultimate law enforcement issue, but he didn’t start out as one.”

In the city’s most densely populated area that generates the highest percentage of police calls, residents and city leaders are celebrating a new police station.

They hope it will serve as a catalyst for development, curb crime, reduce the poverty rate, and prevent those first-graders from one day joining gangs or committing crimes.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The turnout at the dedication of the new Rockwood Public Safety Facility on Thursday was standing room only.

The 12,000-square-foot Rockwood Public Safety Facility is providing a closer home-base for police officers who respond to calls from the Rockwood West-Gresham area, and a more visible police presence in a crucial area.

Rockwood Public Safety Facility joins other new high-profile buildings, including a courthouse and social service hub called the Rockwood Building.

The police facility was designed by Group Mackenzie, a Portland-based architecture and design firm, and contracted by P & C Construction, which started in 1961 based out of a house in Gresham.

To honor the facility built on budget and ahead of schedule, the police honor guard performed a flag raising and led the Pledge of Allegiance.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - 'This is one small step for a city block and one giant leap for a community, 'said Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger. 'This building is one of the many cornerstones being built in this community.'

“This is one small step for a city block and one giant leap for a community,” said Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger. “This building is one of the many cornerstones being built in this community.

“It’s not going to solve all of the issues plaguing our neighborhood, but it is a start in strengthening relationships between police and the citizens of the Rockwood area. We need the community to partner with us to solve these issues and we want this to be the community’s building.”

In 2003, Gresham voters created the city’s first urban renewal district in the West Gresham-Rockwood area. The $5.5 million Rockwood Public Safety Facility, at 675 N.E. 181st Ave., was funded through bonds made possible by these voters.

The new station complements the department’s crowded space at Gresham City Hall on Northwest Eastman Parkway. It will house about 10 percent of the department’s staff, including traffic and gang units as well as property and evidence technicians.

It also will include a temporary booking facility, property and evidence storage and a police training room that will double as a community meeting space.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Instead of a ribbon cutting at the dedication of the new Rockwood Public Safety Facility, the police honor guard performed a flag raising, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

“For this building to be a success, it must represent a departure from the ways we have always done business,” Bemis said. “It needs to represent creativity, collaboration, partnership and coming together.”

Bemis noted Gresham Police will hire a gang outreach worker to work with gang-affected youths through intervention and prevention.

He recalled a Baptist pastor addressing a crowd when Bemis was first elected in 2008, saying, “It is easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than a hospital at the bottom.”

“He was absolutely right, and our intention is for the outreach worker to be that fence,” Bemis said, adding Gresham would create a new neighborhood livability unit within the department.

Additionally, Bemis said the city will partner with the district attorney’s office and Rosewood Initiative through the RENEW Project and enforce the chronic nuisance code for derelict apartment complexes.

He said Gresham will work closely with the Portland Police Bureau Gang Unit and East Metro Gang Enforcement Team to address increasing gang activity and with TriMet to address code violations.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A crowd gathers for the flag raising at Gresham's new police station Thursday.

But Bemis said law enforcement must not — and cannot — be the only answer to issues facing the Rockwood community.

He spoke about strengthening relationships with Home Forward, formerly the Housing Authority of Portland, and Multnomah County, ensuring that Gresham takes on its fair share of the region’s affordable housing, but does not become its landing pad.

“It is imperative that countrywide services for mental health, homelessness, gang prevention and public health be available where the communities of need exist,” Bemis said of partnering with the county.

He also spoke about the need nonprofit organizations and churches fill in Gresham.

Along with the Rockwood Public Safety Facility, residents and leaders celebrated expanding youth service programs through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland Metro and Friends of the Children. Both facilities are expected to open in late 2015 or early 2016.

Mark Young, chief operating officer at Friends of the Children and Erin Hubert, the CEO of Boys & Girls Club, also spoke at the dedication.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Residents and leaders are celebrating a new law enforcement presence in Gresham's most densely populated area with the highest number of police calls.

The city of Gresham is working with the nonprofit organizations on two independent properties — the former Drake’s 7 Dee’s retail locations at 165th Avenue and Stark Street for the Boys & Girls Club and the former Police Activities League at 172nd and Glisan for Friend for Friends of the Children.

“In addition to these important partnerships with other agencies and nonprofit associations, we need to provide hope and opportunity and a path for viable economic success,” Bemis said, noting the Rockwood Urban Renewal Agency and New Industries grant that have helped to create jobs.

“It is only through this combination of new approaches to law enforcement and new and improved partnerships with other agencies and nonprofits that we will begin to make progress on the types of life changes that actually have a chance to curb the influx of poverty, desperation and criminal activity we are seeing. In short, it’s going to require a combination of harder enforcement and much softer hearts. And on the topic of those soft hearts, I want to challenge our community to accept the collective responsibility we have to be part of the solution to the issues we face.”

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