Crimes chip at polish of downtown
Downtown advocates grapple with stabbing, shootings, drug dealing
Downtown's disturbing daytime shooting earlier this month Ñ and several unrelated violent incidents that have occurred since Ñ have some nearby business owners worried about the level of crime downtown.
'I would call this Portland's hood,' said Ryan Dixon, assistant manager at Seattle's Best Coffee, 538 S.W. Sixth Ave. 'It's just making the neighborhood look disgraceful.'
Bethany Liedtke, who manages Bibo Juice, 622 S.W. Broadway, said she and her staff were shocked when they saw the bold shooting right outside their doors on March 11. 'I didn't feel that safe when I started working here, so that just added to it,' she said.
A man was stabbed to death in a low-income apartment complex on Southwest Oak Street last Thursday, and the same night a woman was found shot and wounded at Southwest 13th Avenue and Clay Street.
Dixon says he's also concerned about the impact that two downtown methadone clinics have on public safety.
Portland police officials and the Association for Portland Progress Ñ which oversees the association's Clean and Safe program Ñ aren't discounting the problems, but they say the perception of an unsafe city is all hype.
'There are perceptions and concerns that are going to bubble to the surface,' said John Czarobski, association spokesman.
'The fact that those things unfortunately happened right on top of each other has to be countered against overall facts from the Portland Police Bureau and Clean and Safe officers that say, statistically, there's no safer place than downtown.'
Sgt. Jim Powell of Central Precinct said the violent incidents are isolated and don't represent a trend. As for the drug trafficking, he attributes the increase in its visibility to warmer, drier weather.
'When weather gets nicer, more drug dealing happens outside,' he said.
Dixon said the problem has grown so bad in recent months that he and his staff were forced to remove their outside cafe tables last week. They were fed up with confronting the drug dealers who regularly set up business there.
He said some of the drug-affected people who have been confronted by his staff have threatened to kill him and his co-workers. Some downtown coffee shops have closed their public restrooms permanently because of concerns about drug use in them.
Yet loitering, which businesspeople fear might lead to drug dealing and violent crime, is still a problem. 'They come in, they eat packets of sugar, they pour themselves cups of creamer and drink them all day,' says Dave Neeson, a barista at Coffee People, 506 S.W. Sixth Ave.
'Every once in a while, there'll be a fight outside,' he says, 'and one guy will come in here because people are trying to mess with him.'
A number of efforts are already under way to address the impact of drugs and violent crime downtown. The Portland Development Commission is working on strategies to improve the health of the downtown retail district.
Czarobski said the city's proposed 'sit and lie' ordinance, which would prevent panhandlers and other sidewalk dwellers from blocking pedestrian paths, remains a major Association for Portland Progress project. The City Council will review it in May.
Dixon, of Seattle's Best Coffee, said he believes that some of the drug trafficking he's seeing comes from being sandwiched between two methadone clinics: Allied Health Service, 808 S.W. Alder St., and Comprehensive Options for Drug Abusers (Coda Inc.), 1027 E. Burnside St. Both treat a portion of the 3,000 people on methadone in Multnomah County.
The victim in the March 11 shooting, Richard Ballantine, had been a patient at a local methadone clinic, as had Robert Heinz, the man police have charged with murder in connection with the shooting.
According to witnesses who spoke with Ballantine immediately after the shooting, Ballantine said he had refused a request from Heinz for Xanax just before the shooting. Xanax is a prescription anti-anxiety drug that sometimes is abused to achieve a cheap high.
Leaders from the Association for Portland Progress, police, downtown businesses and county health and housing officials are meeting to discuss the methadone clinics. They're looking at identifying problem behaviors of patients, such as loitering in the downtown area, and working on coordination with local housing services.
Officials say 90 percent of the methadone clinic patients properly follow their treatment. 'We're trying to get the best practices of each clinic and set up a standard among the seven clinics,' said the association's Tom Turner. 'We're making sure that the bottom 10 percent are managed more carefully.'
The subcommittees working on the issues should have some strategies in place by mid-May.
The recent violent crimes downtown include:
• Last Thursday at 8:31 p.m., Anthony Wilson, 47, died of a stab wound to the upper body. He was found in the hallway of an apartment building at 333 S.W. Oak St. The suspect, known as 'Josh,' is described as a white man in his 20s, 5-foot-6, 150 pounds, with medium-length blond hair. He was wearing a baseball cap, a white T-shirt and white shoes.
• Also last Thursday, at 9:35 p.m., a witness said she saw a woman fall out of a late-1970s burgundy Monte Carlo at the intersection of Southwest 13th Avenue and Clay Street. The victim, whose name was not released, is recovering from a bullet wound to the upper torso. A police spokesman said the woman met the shooter at or near Pioneer Courthouse Square and 'may willingly have agreed to leave the area in his vehicle.'
Anyone with information should call the police tip line, 503-823-4731.