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Southeast tire-slashing slowing - but not ended

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Portland Police Officer John Fulitano discusses a map of the the tire vandalism crimes.The incidents of tire-puncture vandalism in Inner Southeast Portland area has slowed, but it continues. It’s a crime spree that started in May, isn’t over yet, and hasn’t been solved.

That’s what 26 community members learned at a special meeting held at the Aladdin Theater in the Brooklyn neighborhood on the evening of November 14.

Before it began, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Detective Division Sgt. Chuck Lovell spoke with THE BEE about why the meeting was taking place.

“The neighborhoods especially affected by this are Irvington, Alameda, and Brooklyn,” Lovell began. “There's been a huge community impact; and there has been a lot of interest in the community about the investigation – especial among those who are financially impacted by this.” There have been reports of this vandalism elsewhere nearby, including Westmoreland and Sellwood.

Typically, vandalism crimes are handled by district patrol officers, Lovell explained. “My detail – I run the Detective Coordination Team – specializes in property crimes. Generally, these are the type of crimes that are not investigated by detectives. But due to the sheer volume of these vandalism cases, we’ve been allocating detective resources to this.”

Detective Lovell said the key to solving this crime will most likely come from a citizen.

“I can’t tell you the number of crimes that have been solved because someone has come forward and said ‘I'm not sure if this is important to your investigation, but...’ – and it leads us to something else, or correlates with information we already have. It can be the smallest fact that might seem very benign, that becomes the most helpful to solving a case.”

Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Crime Prevention Specialist Jacob Brostoff began the meeting at the Aladdin by introducing Portland Police Detective Division Commander George Burke, Detective Division Sgt. Chuck Lovell, and crime statistics specialist Officer John Fulitano.

Commander Burke began by saying, “I want to be up-front about this: As detectives, we naturally have a difficult time giving out information.

“But, we want you to know that we are not overlooking these types of crimes,” Burke remarked. “We want you to know what we are doing, at least in general terms. For example we have been working very closely with the precincts, and other organizations, to resolve this problem.

“Rest assured, a lot of [crime detecting tactics] you’re probably wondering about, we’re actually working on. But, we're still open to all suggestions.”

Burke turned the meeting over to Officer John Fulitano, who said, “I am not a detective, but I work with assembling crime data.”

Asked why the Brooklyn area didn’t originally show up on the tire vandalism crime map, Fulitano responded, “I take full responsibility for that.

“When we noticed this crime trend in the northern neighborhoods this summer, I did not set the [geographic] search [parameters] wide enough to take in Brooklyn. When one of your neighbors brought this to our attention, we expanded the inclusion area, and it became clear that Brooklyn was indeed a hot-spot for this criminal activity.”

By the numbers

There are 558 reported incidents, reported Fulitano. “If you factor in the estimated number of non-reported cases, this is a crime that has occurred more than 700 times. This isn’t someone breaking a window and reaching in the car and taking anything – that’s a different kind of crime, a burglary, called the ‘car prowl’. This is pure vandalism.”

There were 28 to 30 reports per week coming in this past summer, but by the first few weeks in October the reports dropped. “Few in Brooklyn have been reported since in November. But now, some of the neighbors have told me it happened to them, but they didn’t report it.”

Re-victimization of the same people has been running from 10 to 12%, an unusually high figure for a vandalism type crime. “That percentage ran even a little higher, during the height of the problem.”

It’s difficult to find evidence, without catching someone in the act, Fulitano said, “ because this is a very quick crime, like sleight of hand. Unless you're watching somebody actually do it, it’s hard to detect.”

The vandals disappear when a patrol car rolls down the street, he added, “That’s why it is so important for people and neighbors who see anything to report it.”

Considering that Brooklyn was one of the heavily-hit neighborhoods, Fulitano continued, “It's kind of nice that it has dropped off here, right?”

However, he added, this kind of criminal vandalism has been spreading up into the Foster-Powell neighborhood area.

“One difference is,” Fulitano pointed out, “That sedans of all makes and types have been vandalized more recently. However, for some reason, the Subaru family of cars, like the Subaru Forrester, seems to be the ‘vehicle of choice’ for vandalism.”

Asked by an attendee if this is a crime committed by teenage hooligans, Sgt. Lovell commented, “We don’t think so. This isn’t a weekend-only crime; most of the vandalism occurs during the week, during the late-night hours.”

Neighbors proposed numerous ideas for catching the vandals to the detectives, generally framed in the form a question. The detectives assured that these were all sound ideas, but at the same time, they would not comment on specific crime detection strategies and tactics, for fear of perhaps jeopardizing the case.

“The ‘big ask’ I have of all of you,” entreated Fulitano, “is to be our eyes and ears.”

Fulitano told about a visit to the area made by himself and his partner in plain-clothes. “I was in the Brooklyn neighborhood. We found eight of these tire-punctures – one neighbor even got vandalized on a vehicle in the street and another in their driveway.

“We were walking in the street, bending over, touching cars and touching tires! During the time we were there, not one person called 911 to report us.”

Fulitano put it to the group: “If you’re up at night and see suspicious activity – we're not talking about someone who’s walking their dog, but somebody who is walking in the street and not on the sidewalk, who is pausing by trucks and cars – please call 9-1-1. You don’t have to decide if it is significant – Dispatch will decide whether it is a priority or not to send a police officer.”

Lovell reported that the Police Bureau has changed its online crime-reporting form. “The page now asks, if the citizen has time for an officer to come out and look at the damage. We hope that by having a patrol officer or detective come out and inspect the damage, we can gather more information to help solve these cases.”

Crime Prevention Specialists Jacob Brostoff and Katherine Anderson, from the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, reinforced the message: “If you see something, say something”.

They also suggested:

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  • Park your vehicle off the street and in a garage, if possible.

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  • Enhance your exterior lighting: Leave porch lights on at night, add motion-sensor lighting to the garage, and add pathway or sidewalk solar lighting. Prune back trees or bushes that obstruct light.

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  • If you have exterior video cameras, turn them toward the street to capture activity and people near vehicles parked on the street.

    Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information, reported to Crime Stoppers, that leads to an arrest in this case, or any unsolved felony, and you can remain anonymous. Leave a Crime Stoppers tip online at: www.crimestoppersoforegon.com/submit_online_tip.php  or text CRIMES (274637), and in the subject line put 823HELP, followed by your tip. Or, call 503/823-4357), and leave your tip information.

    SUMMARY

    Tire Vandalism Statistics as of November 4:

    558 Tire Punctures

    47 Convertible-Top Slashings

    47 Key-Scratched Vehicles

    $300,000+ Total Estimated Damages – so far