If a burglar breaks into your home and steals your precious belongings, the chances are now better than ever that the crook will be caught by a squad of cops working in the newly-formed citywide Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Burglary Task Force.
That's the message heard by about 70 folks, including neighbors from Woodstock, Brentwood-Darlington, and Mt. Scott-Arleta, who packed the East Precinct Community Room on April 5th at the East Portland Citizens Advisory Council meeting.
PPB East Precinct Commander Bill Walker told how this squad, created at the first of this year, was developed: It originated with the East Precinct's Burglary Unit, which was focusing on break-and-enter crimes, during a wave of break-ins attributed to area 'meth zombies'.
With that, Walker introduced former chief PPB pilot, Sgt. Dan Slauson, of the new Burglary Task Force.
'This is the largest group we've ever assembled to attack burglary in Portland,' Slauson announced. It's run by Slauson and East Precinct's Sgt. Dave Anderson, and is composed of six detectives and eight officers. He added, 'It's a temporary program, slated to end by the 31st of July. It may continue, though, as the Bureau assesses our effectiveness. This centralized task force looks for burglary patterns or trends citywide. We are using the strategies we've found to be most effective.'
Burglars typically don't break into one house and then quit, Slauson pointed out. 'If we can stop a burglar on a 'spree', we can stop future crimes. Many suspects commit as many as 100 burglaries a year. If we stop one at 'crime his number five', that's 95 crimes he won't commit. If we can 'contain' that person through drug treatment or prison, he isn't in your neighborhood, breaking into your house.'
There are two main categories of burglars: Neighborhood and 'crime spree'.
'Historically, a burglar would work their own neighborhood, where they felt comfortable,' explained Slauson. 'These are often 13- to 18-year-old apprentice burglars - or the guy in his 20s who lives in his mom's basement. They are the window-breakers, back-door busters, and 2nd-story workers.'
In the Cleveland High region, police have found that these burglars are looking for alcohol, prescription medications, electronics, games, and money.
'Then we have the 'crime spree' guys. To them, the whole city is their treasure chest. They go wherever they can for an opportunity to commit a crime. They are usually drug- affected people who see the world as a way of making money, to get their drugs.
'While we're still seeing burglars stealing to support a methamphetamine habit, we're seeing an increase in those who are addicted to Oxycodone and other pharmaceuticals. Oxycodone burglars are in the same category as classic heroin burglars,' he said.
And, by developing new evidence-handling protocols with the Forensic Investigations Division, the task force has been able to speed up identifying suspects by fingerprints left at a burglary scene, Slauson said. 'The current record is 10 hours and 45 minutes, from when the suspect left the victim's house until they notified us of a suspect.
To avoid mistakes, fingerprint identification goes through three levels of review before a suspect is named, he added.
The sergeant said that many online websites, like Craigslist, list both legitimate sales offers as well as stolen merchandise for sale.
'One method we use is to solve cases is to purport ourselves as being a buyer,' continues Slauson. 'We look for 'red flag' items like high-end GPS units, iPhones or iPads.'
In one case, when officers rolled up to a parking lot in an unmarked car, 'Two characters showed up on bicycles. We told them we're police; they said their for-sale iPad 'belongs to a friend'.'
But, one of the guys decided to cooperate, and led officers to an inner eastside motel where four rooms were housing thirteen people - and were filled with stolen property. 'With one little transaction, we disrupted the criminal activity of this whole group of people.'
'Sometimes we 'kick the hornet's nest' - it's a way of 'creating our own luck'. After we identify a suspect, we'll do a 'knock-and-talk' at a place they're known to frequent.
Slauson talked about how the officers caught up with a 'prolific burglar' who primarily worked Inner Southeast Portland.
'Once we identified him, we seemed to be about two weeks behind him. We checked a factory where he was said to work; by then we were three days behind. We talked with a gal he knew near S.E. 15th and Holgate, and we were getting closer. Soon, people are telling him to stay away - we call it 'lighting 'em on fire'.'
Finally, they caught up with their suspect at a friend's house. When he heard the knock on the door, the suspect put on a ball cap and tried, unsuccessfully, to slip out.
'This suspect led us to another suspect, and to a house with items stolen from all over the City,' Slauson said. 'He'll get 100 months in prison. By taking him out of his environment, we're disrupting his crime spree.'
Currently, Slauson said the task force is working on a 'spike' in burglaries near Reed College, among other places, and also along S.E. Division Street south to S.E. Powell Boulevard.
'No, our task force can't take responsibility for the downturn in burglaries,' Slauson concluded. 'But, know this: we are working on it, we are experts, and we believe in what we do, and we have passion for it.'