Hall Monitor 

Old Town's Candid Camera

DON CLARKE doesn't seem like the kind of guy who minces words. His business, venerable restaurant supply store Boxer Northwest, will be the first guinea pig in the Portland Police Bureau's controversial plan to stick surveillance cameras on private property—and then tell everybody that they're there ["Eye in the Sky," News, May 31].

Clarke says the cops approached him several months ago with the idea, and that it can't happen soon enough.

The camera will point right at NW 6th and Flanders. It's among the busiest spots along a corridor that transforms, in the loneliest, most quiet hours of the early morning, into a place locals and other denizens call "crack alley."

"I wanted it yesterday," Clarke, the company's president, says of the camera. "I want it in now."

The location of the camera—obtained by Portland Copwatch when it asked the mayor's office point blank last Friday, June 8—injects a little bit of context into what has mostly been a debate about the rules that would govern police cameras. There are concerns that the devices would spread all over town and allow cops to engage in "voyeuristic tendencies" by looking in people's windows.

Those aren't illegitimate fears. And the outcry over the camera plan—initially scheduled to be approved by city council in April, with no discussion whatsoever—forced the cops to spell out, for the first time, a new (if still flawed and incomplete) policy for how any police cameras would be used. The city council also whiffed by failing to back Commissioner Amanda Fritz by insisting that the cops report back in a year on how the camera plan is working.

But while the cops insist they'll be putting cameras in "hotspots," it's actually reassuring to know that the first one, at least, seems to qualify.

Recently, a man heading up NW Broadway told me he remembered seeing crack deals every morning on that stretch of NW 6th—a blind spot between a pair of camera-equipped MAX stops—back when he was in the area trying to score heroin.

"They run that [market] all night long," said Eric, still holding his certificate from De Paul Treatment Centers, as he headed to his new home at the clean-and-sober shelter at Bud Clark Commons. "That's why you want cameras. I'd like to see this area cleaned up."

Other neighbors, like Cal Skate owner Howard Weiner, longtime sparkplug for the neighborhood association's public safety committee, hope to see the area—home to a smattering of galleries and Harvey's Comedy Club—enjoy the same revivification that's come to another formerly rough spot: NW 5th between Couch and Davis. He says cops have already been using cameras strategically in Old Town and the new camera comes from the same neighborhood push that led to the creation of the city's new drug impact areas.

Outcry over the cameras "was blown out of proportion," he said. "I'm supportive of anything that makes this community safer for anyone, whether you're homeless, you have a business, or you're just coming down to visit."

Clarke, president of Boxer Northwest, says he's waiting to hear back from the cops about when the camera would go up. "But as soon as they get it going," he says, "I'm 100 percent in support."

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