Keeping an eye out for crime
Two Citizen Patrol volunteers take Outlook reporter on watch for thieves along Columbia River Gorge Highway
A pile of broken glass is all thats left of a car window at a parking lot near Angels Rest trailhead.
Thats a bad sign, said Rhonda Kjargaard, a volunteer of Multnomah County Sheriffs Citizen Patrol, cruising by with fellow patrol partner, Ron Cannon.
The two are making their usual rounds to check for suspicious activity in the Columbia River Gorge, where some 2 million people come to hike every year.
The summer crowds have gone and break-ins are down, the volunteers say, but there is still a job to do.
Four years ago, Corbett Deputy Rocky Graziano started a Citizen Patrol in Corbett to help out the few deputies patrolling the Gorge area.
Kjargaard, a Corbett resident and retired former principal of the Donald E. Long school, was one of the original volunteers to join.
Now shes Grazianos primary assistant. Aside from patrol duty at least three times a week, she helps free up Corbetts only deputy by coordinating events, scheduling and other odds and ends for the Citizen Patrol.
I like to contribute to my community, said Kjargaard, who has been living in Corbett since 1989. Kjargaard received a Community Service Award at the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office awards ceremony in November.
Its a good feeling when you know you can help and deter things from happening, she said.
Like many volunteers, Cannon also is a retiree. He and Kjargaard frequently patrol together.
The Citizen Patrol recently acquired its own patrol car with an installed radio that puts them on the police circuit for the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office.
On a cold, drizzly Thursday, the friends meet at the county road maintenance headquarters in Corbett to start their shift. The two hop in, orange and yellow patrol vests and warning tickets in tow.
Rhonda is the commander of this chopper, says Cannon, a retired Vietnam War veteran who spent his entire life after the war helping veterans in Oregon.
As we start west on the historic highway, Kjargaard gets a call from her old work in juvenile justice. When kids start failing, they call me for help, she said.
Kjargaard still works part time as a private contractor for schools, assisting youths who are caught up in the criminal justice system and need to get back into school. Most kids call her before they call their parole officer.
With Cannon driving, Kjargaard checks us in with the Multnomah County Records department to let deputies know weve begun our shift.
Our first destination is Dabney Park, a popular place for frisbee golfers and anglers, Cannon said.
We circle through a couple of parking lots and wave to the park lady on our way out. All the while Kjargaard is scanning the lot for a few things: suspicious-looking vehicles, vehicles with expired tags, vehicles parked in the wrong zone and any other sort of criminal activity, like break-ins.
We are only allowed to write warnings, said Cannon, passing back an example of the warning tickets.
We are very polite about it, Kjargaard said. We feel like we are doing people a favor because when the deputy comes by, he will give them a ticket.
The volunteers say many times people will thank them for telling them their tags are expired or they cant park in a certain place.
Its just a courtesy thing, Kjargaard said. They appreciate the heads up.
Listening to the radio
Cannon and Kjargaard are still trying to get the radio thing down.
They are better at listening than spouting off deputy codes.
We listen to the radio for calls out in the Gorge, Kjargaard said. If there is a traffic accident out this way, an officer may need back up.
If it is something minor, she said, that we can help then do, then we are on our way.
If Citizen Patrol comes across a crash, they will put out flares, check to see if anyone is injured and call 9-1-1.
Those who want to join Citizen Patrol are given background checks and must live within the county they volunteer in. Volunteers are required 10 hours of training before they begin duty.
This summer, all 24 volunteers of the Gorge Citizen Patrol received a confrontational simulation training to help them de-escalate and handle confrontations.
They are trained to merely observe and report and to avoid confrontation, Deputy Graziano said. Their primary mission is to patrol the gorge area parking lots and trailheads to deter break-ins.
Kjargaard and Cannon said they also got to volunteer at Wood Village and Corbetts National Night Out, worked an 11-hour day doing traffic control at Corbetts huge Fourth of July celebration and participated in Grazianos active-school shooting training at Corbett schools, where they sometimes patrol.
The whole Citizen Patrol gang had fun holding down Vista House on Halloween night to make sure no shenanigans took place.
We make our way through Lewis and Clark State Park, where the Citizen Patrol confirmed two men sitting in a familiar red car were just having peace and quiet time (Weve ran their plates).
Then we drive through Thousand Acres, where Kjargaard and Cannon love watching the variety of dogs stroll in to be walked by their owners.
Kjargaard spots an old Toyota pickup with 2013 tags on his rear plate. The front tags say 2011 and 2012.
Write him a warning saying What the hell? Cannon said.
We are easily entertained, Kjargaard said. No ticket is written.
Sometimes, the two have a friendly competition to see how many warnings they can give out. For the entire month of November they handed out 28 warnings.
But other times, theyve talked deputies out of giving people a real ticket, because we feel that person did not have enough information, Cannon said.
A possible stabbing at Lloyd Center interrupts over the radio.
We listen. No action by us required.
We do have a radar gun, Cannon continues, but Citizens Patrol can only use it in Corbett.
If the volunteers can take down the license plate quick enough, the driver gets a ticket in the mail.
We head east on Interstate 84 and get off on the historic highway heading toward Multnomah Falls.
Its pretty dead around here when everythings frozen solid, Cannon said.
Giant icicles hang from a number of falls we pass in the Gorge.
Kjargaard is checking license plates as we drive through parking areas.
All tags are good, she says.
We pass the broken glass at Angels Rest trailhead.
Cannon said broken glass counts as a break-in in the police report.
Recently, theres been only one smash and grab while he was on patrol, where a couple was gone not 20 minutes and a person broke out their back window, stole their valuables and threw their lunches down the hill.
Real mean vandal stuff, Kjargaard said.
We got one
As soon as we enter a big parking lot outside Multnomah Falls Lodge, the most notorious spot for break-ins and parking overflow in the Gorge, Kjargaard is on her game.
Bingo! We got one, she said. Expired tags.
As for break-ins, Cannon said there are crews of people who come out to these parking lots and scan cars for valuables. People fall prey if their doors are unlocked. Thieves use the stolen credit cards to buy hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards, Cannon said.
If police are lucky, store cameras pick up their faces and if they can connect them to a break-in around the same time, police can track them down and make the arrest.
Eventually, they do catch some of them, Cannon said.
As for the parking over flow, Cannon said the county is putting in gates to deal with it before spring.
Kjargaard has filled out the warning. She posts the paper on the drivers windshield as it starts to rain.
In front of us, Multnomah Falls is frozen white on all sides, except for a big gush of water dropping out of its middle.
This is what makes this job worth it, Cannon said.JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT