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Corbett's eyes and ears

About five years ago, Multnomah County Deputy Joe Graziano made a bet.

Corbett citizens often asked him about crime reports and the frequent vehicle break-ins that occurred, so the then-new community resource officer lightheartedly challenged citizens to contribute to his efforts.

“I had this standing bet with a lot of people who’d say, ‘Oh, we’d go out and catch somebody,’” Graziano said.

If they did “catch” someone, Graziano promised to buy them lunch.

Learning about the neighborhood watch groups in the area, Graziano discussed the idea of a citizen patrol with his supervisor.

“The chief deputy asked me to look into that,” Graziano said. “That’s basically how the group got started.”OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Multnomah County Citizens Patrol member Rick Ashford maneuvers the patrols Ford Explorer around the Vista House at Crown Point during a recent morning patrol.

These days, the 25-member citizen patrol is well-known in Corbett. The group is equipped with official vehicles marked with Multnomah County Citizens Patrol logos, two-way radios, the know-how to coordinate with the deputies on duty and a passion to keep their community safe.

Eagle eyes

Each morning, Rick Ashford and other patrol members meet at 7:30 a.m. in front of the Corbett Middle/High School on the Historic Columbia River Highway. They keep an eye out for parental strife involving students, drug sales and keep a close eye for other potential problems in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

“Did you bring me any coffee?” Ashford jokingly asked a student making his way into school. OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Multnomah County Citizens Patrol member Rick Ashford gets out for a brief stop at Multnomah Falls during a morning patrol this week. Fellow patrol member Dwayne Schnelle is in the background.

The answer was no, but their presence and relationships in the community are helpful to the sheriff’s office in keeping the community safe. Standing outside the school, the Citizen Patrol members have quickly become familiar faces — which Ashford said is a helpful trait in keeping an eye out for trouble.

Once students finish filing in, the members on shift load into the new patrol car and head out. On the morning of Tuesday, May 12, Ashford is joined by Dwayne Schnelle and Phil Peterson, described as the “youngest of the group.”

“At heart anyway,” Ashford quipped.

The group winds through the pastoral area and past the popular trailheads along Columbia River Highway east of Crown Point. The largest concerns have always been vehicle break-ins at these trailheads.

“We look for that tell-tale glass,” Schnelle said of the pebble-like shards of safety glass that end up on the ground.

They also keep an eye out for anything unusual, such as an abandoned vehicle or dumped materials.

“This is the most beautiful spot in the whole world, and people don’t realize that bad people come out there and prey on tourists,” Ashford said.

Well-oiled machine

If the Citizen Patrol does come across any crime or “bad people,” they have a protocol to follow.OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Patrol member Dwayne Schnelle stands outside Corbett Middle School during the morning rush hour earlier this week.

“We have to really pay attention to what we’re doing and who we’re talking to, to make sure we’re not getting too close to aggressive people,” Ashford said.

If the patrol can help, they do, but Schnelle said they often they call in resources and direct them to where they need to be. The phrase Graziano and the patrol uses frequently is “eyes and ears.”

The additional presence is a crime deterrent, but also allows the MCSO to respond where they are needed.

“It runs like a machine,” Graziano said.

That machine is continuing to expand with a recent partnership with Springdale Job Corps — a career training center for low-income youth.

“(Graziano) started communicating with them and thought it would be a great idea to get the protective services kids to hook up with us and do the patrols,” said Ron Cannon, Patrol member and liaison for the trainees. “It helps them as far as hands-on (training), it pretty much gives them a feel for patrolling, and they also help us as far as watching out for the possible trouble areas in the gorge. And it gives us extended eyes and ears.”

This group of six is still in training, but could start patrolling as soon as next week.

“I think it’s a good marriage,” Cannon said. “We’re pretty excited about the possibility of gaining new members and being able to provide greater coverage throughout the area.”OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Patrol member Rick Ashford takes a look at a lone vehicle parked at Bridal Veil Falls State Park.

The group has numerous success stories — such as assisting the sheriff’s office in finding a prolific car burglar — but they still have to be careful and take their jobs seriously.

“Being as we don’t have the same training as sheriffs, we have to be careful to listen much and talk little,” Ashford said.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy what they do. Many members are military veterans and retired from their chosen professions.

“I feel good about helping protect the schools and keeping our community safe, and in my retiree years it gives me something good to do,” Ashford said.

“It gives us a sense of accomplishment.”

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