Lugging 20 pounds of official gear around her waist means that when Portland Police Officer Heidi Helwig sits down in a chair, she's wedged in by a flashlight, mace, Taser, two-way radio, nightstick, handcuffs, knife, restrainers, and her gun.
And, because she's young and good natured, she laughs as she extricates herself from that chair following her interview with this reporter about her new assignment as Neighborhood Response Team (N.R.T.) Officer for the Woodstock, Brooklyn, Eastmoreland, Sellwood and Westmoreland, Reed, and Ardenwald neighborhoods.
Relaxed and friendly--that's how she hopes law-abiding people will see her, so that they won't hesitate to approach her to discuss neighborhood crime.
Previously, Helwig worked as a police officer in Washington, DC, patrolling the nation's capital--known also, unfortunately, as its murder capital. That city has a murder rate more than ten times that of Portland. As a patrol officer there, Helwig did the basic backbone work of the police department, including answering radio calls and taking reports.
'I just did my job,' says Helwig modestly.
But having grown up in Washington State, where even as a child she visualized herself becoming a police officer, Helwig yearned to return to the West Coast. Joining the Portland Police, she has been patrolling the area. With her new NRT assignment, while she currently plans to walk through every business district in the Inner Southeast Portland neighborhoods where she now has oversight, her latest job puts her more behind the scenes, and includes a desk.
'My job is to liaison with the community,' she explains: 'To build relationships, to look at crime patterns and to see what we can do about them.'
What the community should know, she says, is that she is here to listen. "I need the community to tell me what they perceive the problems here to be.'
So far, at neighborhood association meetings she has attended, problems reported to Helwig include such things as air pistols being illegally fired near Safeway in Woodstock. 'It's against City of Portland code to discharge a compressed air or spring-loaded gun, even in your own backyard,' she says.
Some neighbors have complained about the homeless camping in the Springwater Corridor. 'I believe some of them are responsible for some of the car prowls and burglaries in the area,' she says. 'But not all of them.'
Helwig intends to keep closer tabs on those homeless, she adds.
Car prowls (breaking into cars) have been a plague in this area. 'One day I took three reports for car prowls, and an I-Pod was taken in each case.' Do not--she repeats three times--leave valuables in your car, especially in sight. You're inviting a break-in.
There are other neighborhood crime issues Officer Helwig has been hearing about--robberies, drug dealing (reported in Woodstock), identity theft, mail theft, and burglaries.
'Burglaries are always a problem, though it's not like an epidemic,' Helwig says. But if theft happens to you, it's traumatic, she adds. And, taking into account the human element, Helwig returns to her mission. She tells us that she wants to introduce herself to residents and to merchants--to pop in, and leave her card.