Coffee with A Cop: Police discuss issues with neighbors
From time to time, neighbors coordinate with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) for an informal gathering called "Coffee with a Cop". One such meeting was held on Wednesday morning, November 10, at Mocha Express on S.E. 82nd Avenue.
About half of those attending were from Inner Southeast Portland. As many as 39 people were present; some came after it had started, while others departed before it was over, since the conversation continued well past its 9:30 a.m. scheduled conclusion.
Homeless and quality-of-life issuesTaking part in the discussion were neighbors, business owners, and a church pastor who asked about ways to deal with those encamped on streets, rights-of-ways, and sometimes encroaching on private property.
"In our case, some of the homeless block the sidewalk at our church," the pastor commented. "They cut your hedges and put up plywood barriers; acting as if it's their spot. And, some of the homeless people started a fire near our church!"
Speaking to the issue of the unhoused and camps was PPB East Precinct Sergeant Craig Andersen.
"As you are likely aware, due to reduced staffing, we do not have officers flooding the streets who are able to work all these calls," Sgt. Andersen began. "Like dealing with homeless issues, I can arrest somebody who has less than 2 grams of methamphetamine, but all I can do to a homeless violator is give a citation â€“ like a 'speeding ticket' and a warning â€“ but we cannot take them to jail."
Depending on their activities, officers may be able to get a trespasser off private property. "But, this won't necessarily get them out of the area," pointed out Andersen.
Dealing with 'campers in campers'A neighbor told about the growing mound of debris around apparently inoperative motor homes, and trucks with camper tops. "I've seen these RVs towed and 'dumped' on our street, where they become permanent fixtures," she said.
Andersen responded, "In this case, it's a Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) issue. It comes down to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, if it's a vehicle or RV issue â€“ it is not a policing issue. On the other hand, PBOT has the same staffing problems as the PPB."
Unlike the rules and limitations that clearly define how officers are to respond and react in domestic-violence incidents and other violent crimes, misdemeanor crimes present the challenge of prioritizing time, the sergeant commented. "Our officers are constantly having to decide if they're willing to be tied up dealing with a low-level drug or property crime that will end up with nothing more than a citation â€“ or to prioritize dealing with violent crime.
"Also, when our 'hands get tied' with rules we must follow, we don't expect our officers to put their own careers on the line to give you the help that many would argue that you very much deserve," Andersen observed.
Catalytic converter theftSeveral neighbors said that they, or their neighbors, had had vehicles disabled due to the catalytic converter having being cut out of them and stolen â€“ sometimes even in the middle of the day.
"Although this is a property crime, it is a real problem," agreed Andersen. "Even though it costs the victim thousands of dollars to repair, the criminals are getting maybe $30 for the theft from a 'scrapper' who will buy catalytic converters from anyone, no questions asked.
"We want to track down these criminals, and to go after the buyers of catalytic converters. Yet, with Portland having more than 1,100 shootings so far this year, and experiencing violent crime in which people are injured or die, we have to have a dividing line for our priorities," Andersen said.
Shootings a major concernTurning to the topic of criminals shooting guns, a Brentwood-Darlington neighbor commented, "It's gotten so bad in my area, I'm afraid to go out and walk my dog, even in the daytime."
Taking up the topic of shootings was East Precinct Sergeant, and acting-Lieutenant, Michael Pool.
"To address these shootings, with the resources we have, we're freeing up officers â€“ like Sergeant Andersen talked about â€“ from going on lower-level misdemeanors, to let them 'stay free, and stay active' to pursue violent crime," Lt. Pool conceded.
He pointed out two officers present in the room, and reported that during a "traffic stop" just that morning, they had taken a gun from a person who was not allowed to possess it.
The PPB's Focused Intervention Team (FIT) is taking shape, Pool said. "Because of the political nature of this position, it took officers a long time to feel comfortable volunteering for the team. "It's not that they don't want to do that work. Instead, it is the fear of being under the microscope, with every move one makes being 'second guessed' and criticized."
Those concerns notwithstanding, he reported that at least 40 officers have applied to be on the FIT, with the volunteers ranging in experience from veteran officers to rookies.
THE BEE asked if the constant, daily fusillade of shootings â€“ causing officers to race from one "Shots Fired" or shooting call to another â€“ has had any effect on the officers.
Pool responded, "I've been doing this for 26 years, and I don't like the frequency of the shootings. It used to be when you get a shooting call, you'd feel the blood pressure rise. But now, it's like, 'oh no, not again' â€“ and I don't mean to devalue these calls, because some of them are actual shootings, with lives on the line.
"So, we try not to become 'numb' to the number of shooting calls," continued Pool. "But one of the hazards of going on so many shootings, and shots-fired calls, is that we have to remember to be careful and vigilant as we pull up to each one."
Many reasons for increased shootingsAsked why there has been such a dramatic uptick in shootings, Lt. Pool pondered the question before answering.
Some of increase in Portland he believes to be a consequence of the shutting down of the Gun Violence Reduction Team, in combination with more restrictive "pursuit" policies.
"Some of the shooting comes from homeless camps but, as well, we've had some homeowners who 'crank off rounds' at people who are in their yards â€“ which is questionable, because a person is supposed to be 'in fear of their life' to shoot a weapon," said Pool.
Wrapping up the conversation, Pool said, "Our job, as sergeants, is to support creative policing â€“ but, at the same time, to make sure that our officers are doing so within the guidelines."
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