'Are you lost?' Police ask downtown denizens to engage suspected dealers

Downtown violent crime is down by nearly half from its peak a decade ago; downtown drug dealing is down by the same proportion since its peak nine years ago. And by highlighting the elements that remain - bus-mall-area drug pushers and the public silence that allows them to continue selling - police and neighborhood stakeholders hope to finally shut such practices out of downtown Portland.

Central Precinct Cmdr. Mike Reese, who last headed the police bureau's Drugs and Vice Division, said Tuesday at a meeting of the city's Public Safety Action Committee that public education initiatives - for citizens and for business owners - could help further erode the downtown drug trade.

Especially if people other than cops initiated conversations with suspected drug dealers.

'It would be best to keep it non-confrontational,' Reese said. 'Just approaching people and asking them, 'Are you lost? Can I help you? I've called the police.''

Business owners and regular citizens - not to mention TriMet bus drivers who see the same people ride their routes for four blocks at a time several times a day - could, as Reese put it, 'shine a light' into the shadowy world the dealers inhabit.

'It gives me a great amount of hope that we can take away the environment that these people operate in,' he said.

Steve Trujillo of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, a committee co-chairman, said people need to be more proactive downtown, doing more than wondering why police cannot simply arrest every dealer on their own.

'Don't assume that they should just bust them - because you need to report them,' Trujillo said.

Reese said dealers had gotten to know police schedules, keeping a watchful eye for cops before and after shift changes, which he said would lead to changes in strategy.

Reese said he still has concerns about statistics for drug-related aggravated assaults and robberies. But he said that crime should decline 13 to 14 percent in his precinct by the end of 2006 compared to 2005, which would continue a downward trend.

A recent six-week drug mission resulted in the seizure of more than two pounds of cocaine and the identification of 22 people who police said were regular drug traffickers. Arrest warrants have been issued for those people. Central Precinct, the police bureau's Transit Division, the Multnomah County district attorney's office and private firms Portland Patrol Inc. and Downtown Clean and Safe collaborated on the mission.

'Ten years ago we probably would have had triple the number of arrests,' Reese said.

And he said he was pleased and surprised to find that officers were unable to find people selling heroin, a deep scourge in Portland going back more than a decade.

One of the people arrested was Dante Quinones, 37, who Central Precinct Street Crime Unit Sgt. Chris Davis said was among the 'top 10 or 12' crack dealers in Portland. Police serving a warrant at his North Portland house found cocaine, a handgun, $7,500 cash, high-end electronics, fine clothes and 'a room full of shoes.' Police also seized his car, a late-model Mercedes-Benz.

Davis said Quinones had largely stopped dealing drugs on the west side of the Willamette River after his officers initially targeted him in the spring, selling crack mostly in Northeast and Southeast Portland since then.

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