Posted by Jonathan Maus ( Publisher/Editor ) on January 26th, 2007 at 7:47 am
Office on Youth Crime Prevention]
On Wednesday I met with John Canda to hear his perspectives on how bikes might play a larger role in community policing.
John is the Mayor’s youth crime prevention czar. Prior to that, he led the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, one of six coalitions that oversees 12 neighborhoods.
We met in the Humboldt neighborhood, just blocks from where John was born and raised and where his parents still have a home.
First, let me explain something. Recent attacks are what sparked my action on this issue, but I do not believe there is a rampant crime problem nor a major trend of random attacks on cyclists in the N Vancouver/Williams area. My interest is in the bigger picture.
I think bikes can play a major role in building stronger N/NE Portland communities. We still need more cops on bikes, but I also think citizen-led, volunteer bike patrols could be very effective too.
When I brought this idea up to John, he immediately liked it, but had concerns about liability:
“If the city asks for volunteers, and someone gets hurt, who’s responsible? As an experienced outreach worker, I know the limits of safety, but I’d be worried that volunteers won’t have that sense.”
John agreed. He said, “that makes perfect sense” and added that the head of the Foot Patrol program (Stephanie Reynolds) would be “very excited about it” too.
John liked the idea in part because he knows first hand how bikes can be great tools to foster community connections.
He shared a story with me about how he and several other families used to do a church bike-pool. Once a month, they’d ride to First AME Church on N. Skidmore and Vancouver, picking up others along the way. John beamed as he told the story, recalling the fun and camaraderie of the rides.
“I never thought about bicycles like this before.”
I told John this is exactly why we need more people on bikes in our neighborhoods. On bikes, I said, you experience the environment in a much more intense way than car drivers or transit users. We hear, see and smell things you’d never know about in a car, and we can easily stop and engage with people or situations when we need to.
For example, a few weeks ago I smelled smoke while riding through my neighborhood. Slowing down and turning onto a sidestreet, I noticed flames in the backyard. Once I realized it was serious, I called 911.
Fire crews arrived minutes later and the house was engulfed in flames and smoke. Fortunately, the fire was controlled, no one was inside and most of their possessions were saved. The homeowners were grateful I stopped and called when I did (they also appreciated these photos).
If were in a car, I would have driven right by.
I sensed a light bulb go off in John’s head,
“Hmm. I never thought about bicycles like this before.”
When he said that, I knew I was making progress ;-).
Another reason I like volunteer bike patrols, is that I feel they can help improve our tattered image. Let’s face it, many Portlanders have a limited (and often negative) view of cyclists. John is one of them:
“I’m your average fair weather, recreational cyclist. I’m one of the people in gridlock, seeing bikers zoom by all crazy and thinking, I could never do that. I can’t relate to that. I think the public says, ‘if that’s what it (cycling) is, I’m not doing that, and I’m not supporting it either’.”
This common public perception is a serious detriment to improving cycling in this city and we’ll never get more people riding until we change it.
I also asked John for his feedback on getting more cops on bikes. While he agreed that it would help the neighborhoods, he pointed out one major obstacle:
“I think it’s a healthy conversation to have with the Mayor and Chief Sizer….and I don’t think you’d meet with a whole lot of resistance, but it would come back to manpower. We’re at one of our lowest points ever for recruits and manpower.”
John suggested that as a compromise, instead of asking for new, full-fledged bike patrol units, we should consider a mission based approach. Similar the the bicycle enforcement and pedestrian crosswalk missions the Police Bureau does, these patrols would be called out to a certain “hot-spots” for a finite amount of time.
[After thinking about this more after the meeting, I don’t think temporary patrols would be effective. The key to community policing are the relationships and trust built up by the officers over time. One-shot missions might help, but not nearly as much as established patrol units.]
I expect the Mayor and Police Chief to use the lack of manpower as an excuse to not create bike patrols. They commonly refer to the smaller coverage area of bikes vs. patrol cars and the inability for bikes to respond as quickly to urgent matters. But in my opinion this argument is specious.
If we had more cops on bikes, we’d need less manpower to begin with (because crime rates would decrease).
Even though it makes sense to us, there’s still work to do on both fronts. We’ve got to convince the Office of Neighborhood Involvement to add bikes to their Foot Patrol program and we’ve got to keep telling Mayor Potter that we want more cops on bikes.
From here, John wants to set up another meeting where he and I can present our ideas about bikes and community policing to some key decision makers including the Commander of the Northeast Precinct, someome from the Mayor’s Office, and others.
I still plan to organize a neighborhood forum, but I will wait until after I meet with John again before confirming details.
I look forward to the next steps, and it feels great moving ahead with someone like John Canda on our side.
[Note: I was encouraged to meet with John at the advice of Portland Mercury reporter Matt Davis. I’m grateful for that tip, thanks Matt.]