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The Parks have Eyes

Cari Hachmann | 5/16/2013, 11:08 a.m.
Portland is improving security at its city parks with a team a forest green-clad park rangers who act not only as eyes and ears for the community and the police, but as city ambassadors to assist and build relationships with people in the neighborhoods they serve. Pictured on the job at Chapman Square, downtown, are Park Ranger Security Manager Art Hendricks (left) and Park Ranger Supervisor Hasan Antharee. Photo by Cari Hachmann

Harrison says people are often either sleeping, passed out or not on board. The rangers will check back in a couple of hours when they make their second round and write a warning if the boat remains.

Rangers also have the not so pleasant duty of checking and clearing bathrooms. Loudly announcing their entrance, they will bang on the door several times, which Ranger Arden says not only alerts anyone in the bathroom, but causes drugs people may be stashing under the sink to fall out.

Before rangers head across the river, they pull their bikes to the edge of the waterfront, where Arden uses binoculars to check for campers sleeping below the East Esplanade pedestrian and bike paths.

A blue tarp is spotted. Once on the other side, the rangers will check for inhabitants. If nobody is home, rangers will leave a note to remove their camping equipment before rangers make their round again.

Downtown Waterfront bathrooms are notorious for drugs, but the rangers say users are more likely to shoot up along the banks of the Vera Katz East Esplanade at the top of a lofty concrete walkway Ranger Harrison calls, “Needle Alleyway,” the final stretch of the rangers’ route.

To show the extreme of the extent, Arden pulls up a photo on his iPhone: a needle syringe full of methamphetamine and blood stuck point-blank into a tree overlooking the river.

The record number of needles discovered by rangers is around 50. Today, they found six, including several empty drug capsules once containing meth or heroine. The rangers dispose of syringes in a sharps container and drop the container at a fire station located down the esplanade.

“Parks are for people,” said Arden, “We just want to make sure parks are safe and welcoming to all citizens.” And what more fitting is a Portland job that has you riding bikes downtown along the waterfront rain or shine?