Deterrence, increased surveillance discussed with 55-plus community in the wake of numerous acts of vandalism

by: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Woodburn police Det. Sgt. Nic Wilson speaks with residents of The Estates Golf & Country Club during a program discussing security at the Woodburn 55-plus community.At least 100 residents of The Estates Golf & Country Club gathered last week for a program discussing security at the Woodburn 55-plus community, which has been the target of several outbreaks of vandalism and property damage over the past year.

A half-dozen Woodburn city and police officials were on hand to discuss the attacks and the subsequent investigation and to answer questions, while a representative of G.W. Hardware in Woodburn explained some affordable home-protection measures residents could install in the hopes of deterring criminal activity in the future.

Woodburn Police Det. Sgt. Nic Wilson, who has been helping the Estates management develop a plan for how the neighborhood’s security might be improved, said the department encourages residents to think about and focus on deterrence.

“We want to stop the crimes before they’re committed,” he said. “If we can catch them afterward, that’s great. But once they’ve done the damage, that’s where the costs come in.”

While no guarantee, he said light can be a strong deterrent against criminal activity.

“Criminals operate in the dark,” he said. “That’s where they feel the most comfortable. If you can push them away, that’s going to be the best.”

Wilson said that officers patrolling in the Estates area have noted how dark the Estates golf course is at night. Some of the vandalism sprees, including the most recent, have targeted homes adjacent to the golf course, and Estates General Manager Sharon Schaub said it’s possible that the criminals used the unlighted golf course — rather than the streets — to travel between the homes they targeted.

She admitted that the cost of lighting the course would be prohibitive at this point, but the Estates is planning to take other precautions, including the installation of surveillance cameras and new, “No trespassing” signs.

“We’ve been working closely with the police department and the city of Woodburn,” she said. “I’ve toured the golf course with (Wilson), and we’ve set out some strategic areas where we think surveillance would be most effective.”

During the question and answer period of Thursday’s meeting, police Capt. Jason Alexander told residents that the department does not currently have a suspect or suspects in the case, but that the acts of vandalism are still being investigated. Surveillance footage captured two masked individuals during the last spree (which occurred in early April), and a typewritten note was also found at several crime scenes.

Alexander urged residents to remain vigilant and assist the police investigation any way they can. He also encouraged them to call police if they observe anything suspicious, saying the department would rather respond to something that turns out to be a false alarm than miss out on a chance to arrest those responsible.

“Don’t be afraid to call the police,” he said. “That’s what we want you to do.”

Several questions illustrated the impact the repeated incidents have had on the 55-plus community. One resident asked whether the graffiti (some of which has, in the past, been profane) constitutes a hate crime and should therefore be investigated by federal law enforcement.

The meeting briefly became heated when someone broached the topic of a citizens’ patrol, a roaming volunteer watch group working in partnership with the police department that would be similar to the city of Gresham’s Citizen Volunteers in Policing program, to which another resident responded, “Why don’t you go to Gresham?”

In response to the question of a volunteer patrol, Capt. Doug Garrett said his department is not outright opposed to the idea, but to be supported by police, the group would have to have certain policies and procedures in place.

City Council President Pete McCallum, who attended the meeting, said he thought it was important for the city to have a presence there.

“We want the residents to know they’re not alone in this,” he said. “The council and city staff support what’s going on here. This is a problem for everyone, and we need to come together as a community to solve it.”

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