Not only have business owners had to cope with a long pandemic, vandalism and burglaries are surging

ERIC NORBERG - Shortly after Westmorelands new Chase Bank opened on the corner of S.E. Milwaukie Avenue and Tolman Street, it was forced to board up its windows. This photo was taken on April 22. Subsequently the bank remained open, and put posters about the bank and its services on the wooden panels. Vandals returned and defaced those with spray paint on May 8. Although most of the recurrent and severe vandalism by self-identified anarchists, with associated injuries and theft, has been centered on Downtown Portland and the northern part of the city – no part of the Rose City has escaped this widely reported problem. In Inner Southeast, banks in particular have been badly damaged, and have been for some time. A couple of years ago, a U.S. Bank branch on Chavez Boulevard (formerly S.E. 39th) just north of Hawthorne Boulevard received considerable damage, and recently a financial institution just a block south of that was boarded up.

In Westmoreland, a large number of windows and an ATM machine were broken at the Wells Fargo Branch on S.E. Milwaukie Avenue shortly after it temporarily closed during the pandemic; it was damaged again after repairs were made, and it was boarded up again shortly after it opened. The new Chase Bank branch similarly was boarded up after its grand opening – but both those banks are now open and serving customers. ERIC NORBERG - For the third time in the last year, windows at the Wells Fargo Bank branch at Claybourne and S.E. Milwaukie were boarded up in late April, but the reopened branch remained open. This bank is the direct successor of the very first bank ever, in Southeast Portland - the original Bank of Sellwood, which opened on April 1, 1907.On Saturday morning, May 8th, merchants in Westmoreland were dismayed to discover that vandals with spray paint had further damaged with obscenities the banks, as well as a number of other unrelated businesses, along S.E. Milwaukie Avenue.

These problems have been compounded by the increase in burglaries of Inner Southeast businesses which coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic over a year ago, and has yet to abate. One professional business told THE BEE they had recently been broken into repeatedly, and the damage caused had exceeded any theft losses. A hair salon nearby was broken into some months ago, and has since installed a security camera and a burglar alarm. The burglaries are considered by the police to be a separate problem from the vandalism. When Portland's Deputy Chief of Police, Chris Davis, spoke at the February 3rd SMILE General Meeting in Sellwood, as detailed in THE BEE's editorial in our March issue, he confirmed the general rise in commercial burglaries in Southeast Portland: "It's a shift – there are fewer residential burglaries, because more people are home all the time; but, here, you're getting hammered on business burglaries, car crimes, and car theft." You will be doing a big favor both for local residents and for local businesses if you report any suspicious activity you may become aware of. It's important to report without delay any criminal activity to 9-1-1, and any suspicious activity to the non-emergency number 503/623-3333 – because the more crimes that are reported in an area of the city, the greater the assigned police presence there, which discourages further crime.

Also, be aware that it's the Bureau of Emergency Services, and not the Portland Police Bureau, that takes the calls made to those telephone numbers – and who makes the decisions about what reports to dispatch officers to. If there is not a satisfactory response to your report, try calling your police precinct directly. In Inner Southeast Portland, Central Precinct downtown is home base for the officers serving the east side from the Willamette River east to Chavez Boulevard (formerly S.E. 39th); and East Precinct has jurisdiction from there eastward.

Both residents and merchants concerned about what criminal activity they are experiencing should also contact the "N.R.T. Officer" at their own precinct. Those three letters stand for "Neighborhood Response Team", and although the current severe short-staffing of the Portland Police Bureau requires that N.R.T. Officers now must spend time on the street in patrol duty, that person is still designated to work personally with local residents on problems they are encountering that are within the purview of the police.

In the meantime, many local businesses are beefing up their security, and there has been talk of groups of businesses investigating costs of hiring a security guard to patrol overnight in their business districts.

You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.