|Crime prevention program change irks neighborhoods
Randy Leonard lays off program workers
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
Commissioner Randy Leonard is changing the Neighborhood Crime Prevention specialist job, giving it more responsibilities that he thinks will make it more effective, and raising the pay by $5,000 a year.
So why arent the specialists, and the community volunteers who work with them, happy? The crime prevention specialists work out of the citys seven neighborhood offices; Roseanne Lee is currently assigned to the East Portland office. They work with neighborhood volunteers to organize block watch and business watch networks, safety patrols, and other volunteer crime prevention activities. They also work with neighbors to solve crime issues, such as liquor outlets that contribute to crime and alcohol-related problems.
Originally they were part of the neighborhood office staff, which in five coalitions are independent non-profit corporations run by volunteer boards. Since 1996 the staff of this program have all been city employees, answerable to the program manager, currently Art Hendricks, in the city Office of Neighborhood Involvement or ONI.
Leonards new idea
Leonard will give the specialists the task of analyzing crime statistics and devising strategies to combat local crime problems. He stresses that this will be in addition to, rather than instead of, their traditional role. Were going to give them the tools to do the job, and then get out of their way, he says.
Despite these assurances, some volunteers fear the new duties will interfere with the specialists ability to perform their traditional functions. However, the real rub is not what Leonard is doing but how he is doing it.
To begin with, he did not discuss the idea with community groups, and despite growing opposition he is refusing to reconsider it. Another concern is that, rather than training the existing personnel to perform the new functions, he is eliminating their jobs and terminating all but two of them. They are free to apply for the new jobs, but there is no guarantee they will get them.
Southwest Neighborhoods, Inc., wrote a letter of protest to Leonard in early September. At press time it had been endorsed by four other coalitions, including the East Portland Chairs Advisory Committee by unanimous vote.
The Crime Prevention Specialist role is one of trust and knowledge, and cannot be replaced easily, a September 6 letter from the East Portland Chairs says. Our crime prevention people know our neighborhoods, know how to develop answers which fit the situation, and know when police involvement is needed. In a time when our precincts are closed more than they are open, this personal presence is both supportive and effective in resolving limited criminal issues before they get out of hand.
In addition, we are equally concerned that you did not respect the neighborhood organizations enough to discuss your ideas with them prior to deciding to reclassify and rehire the positions. We believe our partnership with Crime Prevention people and the ONI programs generally should have at least provided a basis for seeking our opinions prior to your decision. We are especially concerned that the decision was being implemented with Human Resources before any of us knew what was being done.
One of the signatories, Arlene Kimura of Hazelwood, had this to tell the Memo: Unfortunately, I feel this was very poorly handled. The whole idea of making all the crime prevention specialists re-apply is not acceptable. With its new prescribed duties, she fears that whoever holds the job wont give us the hands-on attention we need.
The decisions been made
All of the letters expressed a desire to discuss the matter with Leonard. A meeting was set for September 23 but, at press time, it was uncertain whether it would in fact be held. Aide Brent Canode told the Memo that it seemed pointless, since the purpose would be to consider whether to proceed with the change, and Leonard was determined to do so. The commissioner feels he must be free to deal with personnel matters, Canode said. When it was suggested that the changes seemed to transcend personnel issues he said, We dont see it that way.
Lee declined to discuss the issue with the Memo, saying it is bureau policy for public pronouncements on bureau matters to go through Hendricks. Hendricks did not return Memo phone calls, but did speak at a community meeting. He said that last year, when the bureau was under Commissioner Jim Francesconi, he had been directed to put together strategic plans, and that effort is continuing. He also cited a part of a recent City Club report that there wasnt sufficient city support for the block captain program, or outreach to the Latino and other minority communities. The crime prevention programs so far has been direct service problem solving. Theres nothing wrong with that, and it will continue. But there are issues in the neighborhood, and resources that need to be brought to bear to deal with those issues. All these things involved changing the personnel job description.
Hendicks repeatedly indicated that the decisions ultimately came from Leonard. His style is different from what we were used to, he said. His style is more hands-on. He made it clear to us that hes the manager of the bureau, that he will make the decisions based on the input he receives, and that as manager of the program its up to us to implement those decisions.
A hatchet job?
Some in the community fear that part of the purpose of the procedure, of making the specialists reapply for new jobs instead of training them for new responsibilities, is to give management the chance to rid itself of what it considers dead wood. Hendricks vehemently denied this. When one resident spoke about the time that would be needed for new staff to learn about community needs he replied, We dont know who the new staff will be, and that this staff wont be hired. He added, Regardless of the outcome, staff will have positions in one of the commissioners bureaus somewhere.
Paul Dinberg, one of the staffs two shop stewards, later corrected Hendricks. The staff is only guaranteed a chance to apply for (not necessarily get) a vacant job with a similar civil service classification within the city in the next 90 days, he said.
Another shop steward, Rhetta Drennan, told the Memo, Some of us were told, You dont have to worry, you have all the skill sets the new classification calls for. Some were not told that. The only conclusion we can draw is that they want to get rid of the current personnel.
Drennan continued, I dont think any person in this program or the community has said, This program is perfect, dont mess with it. Were always ready to improve. But thats hard to do when your partners wont work with you.
Meanwhile, in addition to the coalitions, the specialists have received a vote of support from the programs original Police Bureau liaison - Tom Potter, who went on to become chief, and is now a candidate for mayor. The idea was to give citizens a place at the table, he told the Memo. Crime prevention workers were essential in getting community policing started; we couldnt have done it without them.
Of the current controversy he says, I dont know all of the particulars, but the people in the program are very important. (New police chief) Derek Foxworth will need those people out in the community to make the program work. I told Randy Leonard that Ive heard of the concerns, and that if he could revisit his decision, it would be worthwhile.
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