PCC-Cascade teams up for success
By Abe Proctor
The area around Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus in north Portland — particularly in the vicinity of the intersection of Albina Avenue and Killingsworth Street — has long held a reputation as a rough neighborhood. But a new report released by the Portland Police Bureau shows that this reputation may soon be a thing of the past.
Details of the extraordinary progress made to reduce street crime and other undesirable activity in the north Portland community was made public on Thursday during a news conference attended by the police bureau, campus officials and business owners and residents.
Serious crimes like murder, aggravated assault, and robbery are down 27 percent in the vicinity of the campus from 2007 to 2011. Even in the last year and a half, as violent crime rose 9 percent citywide, it fell by 16 percent along the Albina and Killingsworth corridors.
The report largely attributes this progress to the work of the Albina-Killingsworth Safe Neighborhood Commission, a community safety group founded by Cascade Campus President Algie Gatewood in 2006, of which the police bureau is a member.
The commission heard from residents, students, workers and businesspeople alike who shared a concern about repeated incidents of loitering, theft, drug possession and dealing graffiti and, sometimes, gang violence.
Gatewood asked the community to find ways to make the neighborhood a safer and more livable place. He tapped local residents, business owners, the police bureau, Jefferson and Rosemary Anderson high schools, and representatives from government agencies in the area, such as the Multnomah County Library and TriMet. They began to meet regularly, and the Albina-Killingsworth Safe Neighborhood Commission was born.
“Since the commission began, we have made tremendous strides toward making this a safer, warmer, and more welcoming neighborhood,” Gatewood said. “The really wonderful thing about this is that much of our progress has come from simply getting to know one another better, meeting regularly, sharing information, and just knowing that we all have each other’s back.”
The commission started out by coming up with common-sense approaches to the neighborhood’s crime troubles. For example, they increased the number of surveillance cameras along the campus’ perimeter, and expanded this network to include new cameras on commercial buildings along Killingsworth. PCC Public Safety officers regularly share access to the camera network with the police bureau, and the surveillance footage has led directly to the apprehension of suspects.
Another example of the commission’s work was “The Wall,” an old concrete foundation along North Mississippi Street and adjacent to a campus parking lot. The wall was a notorious hangout and magnet for loitering, and a spot where drugs were frequently bought and sold. A public pay phone nearby provided a discreet link between dealers and customers.
Earlier this year, the commission decided it was time to do something about the wall. The college installed a wrought-iron fence along its edge to transform the wall from a spot to sit and hang out to a place where it was impossible to sit at all. The notorious pay phone was also removed, and almost overnight, “The Wall” ceased to be a problem.
But the commission’s work really took off a year earlier after a conversation between Gatewood and Portland Police North Precinct Commander Mike Leloff. Impressed with the commission’s efforts, Leloff decided to step up the police bureau’s commitment to the neighborhood. A dedicated street crime unit was created, and hit the streets in late 2011.
The new unit quickly made its presence felt, and let it be known that they weren’t going anywhere. The first priority was “probable cause” arrests targeted at problem behaviors like public drunkenness and minors in possession of alcohol. Later, as the unit became a more familiar presence and the problem behaviors began to abate, enforcement took a back seat to efforts to establish and maintain relationships and partnerships with the community.
“At first we were spending time dealing with burglaries and assaults,” said Sgt. Mark Friedman, head of the street crime unit. “Now we’re talking about safe pedestrian crossings. That’s progress.”
Going forward, the commission and the police bureau are focusing on broadening and strengthening the relationships that have developed in the neighborhood, and continuing the area’s collaborative approach.
“Coming together as a community has improved our quality of life,” Gatewood said. “This is a warmer and more welcoming neighborhood, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Abe Proctor is the community relations officer for Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus.