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Portland Parkside neighborhood launches crime watch program

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Portland Parkside neighborhood launches crime watch program

PORTLAND — Parkside residents, landowners and businesses are launching a neighborhood watch program.

The initiative comes at the start of summer, when crime typically spike throughout the city, and as Portland welcomes a new police chief, James Craig, who has described community policing as a linchpin of his law enforcement philosophy.  

Parkside Neighborhood Association President Robert Giovannini said 52 people, including Craig, attended a June 18 neighborhood meeting to roll out the new program.

Parkside is the neighborhood defined by Forest Avenue, St. John Street, Deering Oaks Park and Congress Street. It is one of the most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse and densely populated areas in the state. 

"When you combine all of those elements, you get a diverse multicultural neighborhood," Giovannini said. "But it has it's own set of complexities."

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, Parkside has a population 4,676, the
fifth largest in the city. Half of the residents are under 34 years old
and rent their homes. 

According to neighborhood crime reports from the Portland Police Department, Parkside is second only to the
downtown area in crime. From May 2008 to May 2009, there were 3,067 calls for police service to
the West End, which includes Parkside. By
contrast, there were 3,818 calls for midtown and only 163 calls to the
Riverton-North Deering area. 

For the week of May 24-31, the heaviest concentration of calls came
from Congress Street and Park Street, with 57 and 30 calls, respectively. Grant
Street had 28 calls, while Cumberland Avenue had 16. 

Giovannini said that people of all colors and stripes attended the June 18 meeting,
making it one of the few that has bridged the ethnic and cultural divide.

"If we can unify folks and utilize their energy – that can be very powerful," he said. "But if people stay behind closed doors and stay in their own small groups, that's where you get issues and misunderstandings. We're trying to bridge a lot of that."

Over the next few weeks, a team of nearly a dozen volunteers will distribute neighborhood watch packets through the neighborhood. Those packets include common-sense tips for people to protect themselves, their families and their homes. Each packet will have a window decal to indicate participation in the program. It will also contain a refrigerator magnet with important phone numbers and lighted safety whistle key chain with an emergency number and a non-emergency e-mail address.

"We tried to come up with two of three different ways for people to always have the information they need on their person," Giovannini said.

People who join the program may be asked to sign an informal contract, he said, and to help ensure people won't simply throw away the packets, local businesses are offering special discounts. 

Giovannini acknowledged the neighborhood has had its problems. But he said the group was told by police that only about 1 to 2 percent of the population is responsible for most of the crime. 

"Parkside has come so far and there's so much energy," he said. "A program like this is designed to get the community more energized and out there and own their neighborhood."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net