According to national statistics, crime is not increasing in Portland as much it seems to be in some other areas of the country, but that’s a little hard to prove to local residents, who have had to deal with a half-million-dollar vandalism spree that is still in progress – involving the systematic destruction of sidewalls of tires, often new ones, on vehicles parked at the curb throughout Portland.

As THE BEE has been reporting, Inner Southeast has definitely not been immune to this crime, and witnesses (and security camera images) are earnestly being sought that might be able to help identify the vandals.

Meantime, for years, residents of our part of town have sporadically been victimized by thieves who burglarize houses or cars to obtain things they can sell to feed a drug habit. It’s wise to make sure your house is secure, and to keep your car locked – with anything of value inside placed completely out of sight. Car break-ins have been done for something as seemingly minor as a resellable CD sitting on the seat. “Problem houses” acting as centers for this sort of crime are often identified by residents, but sometimes the tedious gathering of evidence needed for a search warrant and prosecution takes months for the police, after they get the tip.

Local merchants are far from immune to this problem; “customers” with a drug habit frequently try to shoplift items (and the personal belongings of the staff) from local stores. This sort of thing can actually mean a difference between making money and experiencing a business loss, for some small businesses. “Neighborhood watches” have proven effective for residents in preventing break-ins and burglary, and now some merchants are developing a similar resource. The Sellwood Westmoreland Business Alliance business association, with assistance through the area’s “neighborhood coalition”, Southeast Uplift, has been developing a reporting network by which member merchants who are victimized by thieves and shoplifters can immediately alert other businesses in the neighborhood.

The idea is to help identify the culprits – and good quality photos taken by merchants on smartphones and cameras of these suspects in their stores, sent as part of the alert, have already stopped some of these miscreants from victimizing other merchants. They are recognized as they enter, are challenged, and leave empty-handed.

This sort of identification does not amount to an arrest, and so although THE BEE has received some of these photos, we cannot legally print them. But they do serve their purpose when a merchant recognizes a shoplifter from such a photo as he or she enters their store, and stops them.

That has been happening, and we suspect that as thieves and addicts become aware that Sellwood and Westmoreland merchants are no longer “easy marks” – and that they are personally known there, which means they can get caught – they may turn their attention elsewhere. That would be good for the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood, but it would move crime elsewhere in the city. Other business associations need to step up and organize the same sort of network if the whole city is to become inhospitable for these criminals.

Merchants elsewhere in Inner Southeast who would like to do the same thing can learn from the Sellwood Westmoreland Business Alliance what it is doing, and turn to Southeast Uplift for the expertise in setting up this sort of alerting network for their merchants. The Sellwood Westmoreland Business Alliance, should you wish to visit their public meeting, gathers on the third Thursday each month, at 9 in the morning, at SMILE Station – S.E. 13th and Tenino, a block south of Tacoma Street, in Sellwood. Its President is Tom Brown, and the meeting lasts about an hour.

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