Jack Pollock

Last Wednesday afternoon, May 10, Pamela Pitra dialed 911 when a neighborhood crackhead—who had been acting unpredictably for some time, she says—came screaming to her door in SE Portland, demanding to be let in.

Nervous of the man's behavior and fearing for the safety of her two children, Pitra hoped a patrol car would be dispatched straight away. Instead, she says, the operator asked "is he hurting you?" Pitra says she had to argue her case before a cop was sent to the scene.

The incident, neighborhood activists say, typifies increased reluctance by police to send patrol cars to their outer Southeast Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood—an area also known pejoratively as "Felony Flats"—despite the fact Pitra says she had already been harassed by the man at her door a week before (when he insisted she take possession of an oil lamp refilled with explosive gas because he "did not want it in his home," she explains).

Neighborhood activist group ACORN, of which Pitra happens to be a member, says the mayor's citywide allocation of $100,000 to community policing in last week's budget is not enough to improve things in their neighborhood. A more effective option, neighbors argued at May 11's Citywide Community Budget Meeting in NW Portland, would be reopening a police substation on SE Flavel and 54th, which closed in 2001 due to budget cuts.

The office was bulldozed this March, but it once allowed three full-time cops to be housed locally, instead of at the Southeast precinct building four miles north, on Burnside.

ACORN activist Alissa Evans says the Brentwood-Darlington area is now caught in a vicious circle where police are taking longer to respond to calls, so crimes are less likely to be reported by frustrated neighbors.

Both the police and the mayor's office did not return calls for comment on ACORN's substation proposal. But Pitra, who now keeps a baseball bat by her door, says: "It shouldn't get to the point where a crack addict has to be harming me in my own home before they send a patrol car out. If the mayor would come out of his safe downtown office he would get more of an idea of what it is like to live down here. It's scary."