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City turns to rangers for downtown park security

Update: Thursday public meeting on change postponed

Questions are growing about plans to change the existing security contract for public parks in downtown Portland stretching from Northwest to South Waterfront and the inner east side.

Portland Parks and Recreation contracts with an affiliate of the Portland Business Alliance to provide security in the parks from 7 a.m. until midnight. The parks bureau is moving to change the contract to replace the existing security guards with three of its own employees between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The change would reduce the bureau's existing $529,586 annual contract with the PBA by $350,000. The money would be spent for three employees classified as park rangers.

The PBA uses the money to hired eight guards who work two shifts in the parks. They are in addition to those financed by downtown property owners who pay for security and cleaning services throughout the urban core provided by its Clean and Safe program. The program also pays the salaries of four Portland police officers dedicated to downtown. The parks portion is operated by a subcontractor called Portland Patrol, Inc.

The change is concerning some downtown business and property owners who worry that it will decrease security in the parks. The parks bureau is overseen by Commissioner Nick Fish.

'We have had a lot of feedback from downtown business and property owners about the change, and we are talking to the parks commissioner about it,' says Megan Doern, the alliance's vice president of communications and program.

Fish could not be immediately reached for comment.

A Thursday morning public meeting between downtown residents and parks officials to discuss the concerns was postponed Monday afternoon. The meeting had been requested by the Portland Downtown Neighborhood Association. It was postponed to give the city and the PBA a chance to discuss the change first.

Parks Security Manager Art Hendricks says the new park rangers will have the same powers as the Portland Parks Inc. employees, but will offer a wider range of services, including giving directions and explaining history of the parks to visitors.

Hendricks says park rangers will be certified by the Oregon Department of Public Safety and Standards, and will also be trained on homeless, mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues by the Portland Housing Bureau and area homeless providers.

The change is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. The parks include: Tom McCall Waterfront Park, Ankeny Park, Couch Park; the North Park Blocks and the South Park Blocks in downtown; the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade on the inner east side; Elizabeth Carruthers Park in South Waterfront; and Jamison Square, Tanner Springs Park, and the coming Fields Park in the Pearl District.