FROM THE EDITOR
"I've never seen the fear of crime in Portland higher than it is now…it's even higher than crime itself!"
That statement came from Mark Wells, long a leader in the crime prevention program of the City of Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement, and which by emergency action of the City Council last summer is now suddenly the "Office of Community and Civic Life", with a new name, much new staff, and many organizational changes.
But Wells is still there, and was a featured speaker at December's General Meeting of SMILE, the Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League – which is not only the official neighborhood association for Sellwood and Westmoreland, but also is the oldest neighborhood association of the 95 in the city, having long-predated the start of the neighborhood system itself in Portland. If, as some fear, the city's new de-emphasis of neighborhoods in our diverse city may lead to an end to the neighborhood system and the turning of Portland into a more generic city, SMILE by its nature will be one of the associations which will survive it.
What Wells was talking about appears to be the outcome of the "connected society", in which social media spreads news, and also rumors, and fears – all of them taken as fact. The 14 fulltime staffmembers in the city's crime prevention program find social media reports helpful when they tip police to emerging problems, and crimes that do not get reported – they but find it troublesome when incidents are blown out of proportion and fears and suspicions area reported as fact.
A prominent social source of useful information as well as considerable misinformation and fear has been identified as "Next Door", an online tool based in San Francisco which limits its membership and participation to residents of specific neighborhoods; those who live in one can join the "Next Door" for that neighborhood only, and exchange comments and information with others in that neighborhood, but nobody not living in that neighborhood can have access to that section of "Next Door". This has actually posed an obstacle to crime prevention personnel who monitor social media for crime tips, but who cannot access "Next Door" in most of the city.
An example of how online comments, reports, and rumors can spark excessive fear is shown by a telephone call received by your editor a year or two ago. The woman on the phone demanded to know why THE BEE was "ignoring the current crime wave" in her neighborhood. "What crime wave?" we asked. "We haven't observed one in our own neighborhood, and you're the first to mention one to us."
She referred to numerous reports of petty and worse crimes spoken of on "Next Door", and then said this call was prompted by a man who had just walked up her front walkway that day, then turned around and walked away before reaching her door. "Did he do anything bad there?" we asked. She said no; but he was unknown to her and had trespassed on her property. It all fit in with the "crime wave".
So we asked where she lived. Turns out, she lived two blocks from us! No crime wave here. But she didn't believe it.
Does that mean there is little or no crime in Inner Southeast? Certainly not. There is. It's just not as bad as people think it is; in fact, petty crime has actually diminished in our own part of town over the forty years we've lived here.
Wells pointed out that the major cause of crime around here is drug addiction, and has been for quite a while. Addicts steal in order to finance a drug habit. The result is break-ins to cars (don't leave anything of any potential value whatever visible in your car), and homes. Most are crimes of convenience: If it's easy to do, they are done. If it's harder, they usually aren't.
Breaking into a car to steal something pawnable that's visible inside is easy. Stealing a package off a porch is easy. Breaking into a house when the owners are likely elsewhere at work – particularly if the location is secluded, and the entrance is not easily visible – is easy. Burglarizing a house where residents have actually said on social media that they'd be out of town is especially easy!
As for you, when going out, locking your place and securing windows is easy. Locking your car and leaving nothing of any value visible inside is easy. Getting the many specific crime prevention reports and folders from the Crime Prevention Program at the Office of Community and Civic Life is easy – call 503/823-9333, and ask for them. Or go to – www.portlandoregon.gov/civic/28395
The only thing easier than taking these precautions is doing nothing, and staying at risk.
Mark Wells is in charge of setting up volunteer Neighborhood Watches throughout the city, which are proven deterrents to crime, if properly set up, and with his free training. There are now 12 Neighborhood Watches in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood; there are 351 of them in the City of Portland. If you want to know more about setting one up on your block, call Mark Wells through 503/823-4064.
And Wells concluded his talk at SMILE by urging that all crimes be reported to the police, even minor ones. One of the meeting attendees admitted someone had stolen a bike from her recently, and she had not reported it because she doubted she would get it back. Wells said that she actually might, since the police recover a great many bicycles from thieves, but don't know who to return them to. "Know the serial number and make of your bike, and report the theft!"
But even if you never do see it again, the police urge you to report any crime committed against you. This not only helps reallocate Portland's understaffed police officers into areas where crime is occurring, but it gives the police a local pattern of crime which may lead to arrests.
How to report a crime? If it's in progress or an immediate danger, call 9-1-1 and include why you think so, since that information will help get a response. If it's a past crime, call "police non-emergency" at 503/823-3333 to report it. And if that seems like too much trouble, you can file a police report online 24 hours a day! That option has been around for years, but not many residents seem aware of it. You can do that at – www.portlandpolice.com
Don't be afraid of living here! Find out how to protect yourself and your property; and report any crime against you that occurs. Stay safe out there!