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Gresham Police to open office in Rockwood

Chief Carla Piluso says Fred Meyer site will make inroads with community
by: file photo, Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, center, Dave Brugato, Gresham city facilities fleet manager, and Urban Renewal Manager Rebecca Ocken look on at the former Fred Meyer training center in Rockwood.

Gresham officials are planning a Saturday, Sept. 9, grand opening for a new police satellite office in Rockwood.

In February, Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso toured space in a shopping center next to the closed Rockwood Fred Meyer building to see if the vacant 5,000-square-foot Fred Meyer Training Center would work as a satellite office.

The answer was a resounding yes.

About 5,000-square-feet in the training center is being renovated - paint, carpet, walls removed - for use as a satellite office where officers can take breaks, write reports, process evidence, question suspects and take witness and victim statements.

Through partnerships with Rockwood Weed and Seed and Human Solutions - plus unsworn police department staffers and urban renewal agency employees - the office will be open to the public during business hours.

However, officers will be able to access the space 24 hours a day, and a community room also will be available, both during business hours and after hours, for meetings and gatherings.

Last fall, Gresham's Redevelopment Commission paid approximately $8.4 million for a 6.5-acre parcel home to the closed 86,000-square-foot grocery store, as well as a nearby 13,000-square-foot shopping center.

Centrally located in the Rockwood Triangle, the heart of West Gresham's Urban Renewal District, Fred Meyer closed in January 2003. That November, Gresham residents approved a $92 million, 20-year urban renewal district with a focus on revitalizing the Rockwood triangle bordered by Northeast 181st Avenue, East Burnside Street and Southeast Stark Street.

Urban renewal is a financing tool designed to improve blighted neighborhoods by dedicating tax dollars to improvements. As part of the urban renewal campaign, Gresham officials promised voters greater police presence in the fast growing, poverty stricken, high crime area.

Now, that promise is becoming a reality.

'It looks really, really good,' Piluso told Gresham Redevelopment Commissioners on Thursday, June 22.

Located within the shopping center, the new police office boasts an entry/reception area, where on-site staff will greet visitors and provide information on community resources.

But don't expect officers to be milling around. 'We really want them out on patrol,' Piluso said.

Like at the Gresham Police Department at City Hall, when a citizen wants to talk to an officer, that officer must be called in off the streets or a call. The same will apply to the Rockwood office, Piluso said.

Citizens rarely report emergencies at the police department. Instead, they need to report a crime that's already occurred, are looking for the courthouse, need directions or want information on how to pay a utility bill, Piluso said.

Even though officers won't regularly be on site, the office is still expected to help reduce crime, attract businesses and anchor the area.

'People like seeing those police cars there,' Piluso said. Patrol cars are there now because officers use a desk with an iffy computer connection at the Department of Juvenile Community Justice next door or go to the police department at Gresham City Hall to write reports.

There also will be a phone that only dials 9-1-1 outside in case police are needed after hours.

A community room also will be available for groups such as the Rockwood Business Coalition. 'The more active the space is, the better,' Piluso said.

Converting the space into a police office will cost about $50,000 - nearly $30,000 of which is due for wiring computer connections so they connect to the city's computer system. Luckily, the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission has awarded the city a $14,200 grant to cover half the computer wiring costs.

Piluso said the office is an interim step toward providing a police presence, but should be open for at least two years until a permanent office is available after the Fred Meyer property is fully developed.

Referring to Piluso's enthusiasm for the project, Commissioner Shirley Craddick said, 'It's very contagious. We're all excited to see something down there.'

Commissioner David Widmark remarked that the office and more police access are sure to foster relationships with Rockwood residents.

He also suggested the redevelopment commission hold its meetings in the new office once it opens.