Years of volunteer patrols pay off with a lower crime rate
Armed with a camera, courage and even a garden hose, Kim Adams has battled prostitutes and drug dealers in her Northeast Portland neighborhood for the last nine years.
Adams began fighting crime on her own in the late 1980s when she got tired of coming home to prostitutes and johns parked outside her house.
In 1993, she took over the Piedmont Foot Patrol and has since led the dedicated group of volunteers in keeping Piedmont's streets safe.
'I just refused to be run out of this neighborhood by a bunch of punk kids,' Adams said.
A horseback-riding injury in 1994 slowed Adams' pace, but it didn't dull her determination. Fellow patrol members rolled her through the streets of Piedmont in a wheelchair for three years before she saved enough money to buy an electric scooter.
'Many a night I pushed her up and down all the hills,' said patrol member Gretchen Dennison. 'But she kept doing it Ñ originally for her children, and then for the neighborhood in general.'
Prostitution, gang and drug-related activities have become less rampant in the neighborhood, partly because of Adams' dedication, said Northeast Precinct Commander Bruce Prunk.
The Piedmont neighborhood stretches from Interstate 5 to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and from Northeast Ainsworth Street to Columbia Boulevard.
Adams moved to Portland with her husband and two small children in 1987. Their neighborhood was riddled with drug users, gang members and prostitutes.
'There were hookers and johns in the front yard, rubbers and needles in the driveway,' she said. 'Fourteen kids in the neighborhood were juvenile delinquents Ñ they slashed tires, broke windows.'
Johns would often pick up prostitutes on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and take them to Adams' street, which is a dead-end, she said.
'My kids got a real good sex education,' she said. 'They'd be like, 'Mom, why is that car rocking with the windows all fogged up?' '
Adams got her first taste of crime fighting when she came home at 3 p.m. one day to find a john and prostitute parked outside her house. She called the police and helped identify the prostitute when an officer picked her up on MLK.
Adams became determined to rid the neighborhood of prostitution Ñ a decision that would ultimately lead to her work with the foot patrol.
She started small. Camera in tow, Adams would snap pictures of johns and prostitutes and jot down makes of cars and license plate numbers. A call to the police often would result in an arrest.
If johns left their car windows open during the summer, Adams sprayed them with her garden hose.
At the same time, there were three police officers assigned to prostitution detail on MLK, and members of the foot patrol videotaped prostitutes and johns. Adams said that within 18 months, prostitution activity in the area decreased dramatically.
But there still were drug and gang houses.
Adams stepped up her commitment to safety in Piedmont. She became involved in the neighborhood association and in 1993 took over the foot patrol. She has continued to lead the group, even though the horseback-riding accident left her seriously injured and forced her to take early retirement.
The city of Portland formally heralded the foot patrol last November when its members received a Spirit of Portland Award from Mayor Vera Katz.
A rotating group of 25 volunteers, the foot patrol is nonconfrontational. Members are armed only with cell phones, flashlights and bright orange vests.
'Kids call us the 'pumpkin people,' ' Adams said with a chuckle.
Despite such lighthearted nicknames, patrollers take their jobs seriously.
'We're the extended eyes and ears for the police,' Adams said. 'We've prevented a lot of stuff from happening.'
She contends that the foot patrol is still a vital force in Piedmont, even though crime has gone down in Portland and many neighborhoods have abandoned similar groups. When Adams first moved to the city, there were about 90 foot patrols, but that number has dwindled to the single digits, she said.
'People get complacent,' she said.
Prunk agreed, saying that patrols often were formed in response to specific issues; once the problems improved, the patrols fell by the wayside. He said many neighborhoods Ñ including Piedmont Ñ still need such patrols to address street-level drug dealing and prostitution.
Adams said she has encountered a fair share of 'hairy' moments during her nine years with the patrol.
'We've run into hookers, drug buys, had gang members come after us,' she said.
Patrol member Dennison added that patrollers have been out in the streets during two 'gunshot incidents.'
The potential for danger never fazed Adams.
She insists that without the foot patrol's presence, Piedmont would deteriorate. So, Adams continues to patrol the streets in her scooter, even though it causes her a good deal of physical pain.
'It's hard for her to sit or stand for long periods of time' because of her physical limitations, Dennison said, 'but she's still out there.'
And for this, the police and neighbors are thankful.
'We need to stay focused and can't sit back,' Prunk said. 'The community comes first in community policing, and without people like Kim, it just doesn't get done.'