Police presence reins in gangs

Neighborhood patrol officers spend time hanging out in parks

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



Instead of holing up at his desk, Vancouver police Cpl. Duane Boynton writes his reports and fires off some emails while sitting in his patrol car parked at Water Works Park.

The practice is not so that he can get out of the office — though he said he doesn’t mind the fresh air when it’s not raining. The real goal is to be a visible presence at a few of the city’s parks in his patrol area that have recently been the focus of complaints.

“I get an eye on it every day,” he said of Water Works Park near Clark College. Boynton, one of four neighborhood police officers with Vancouver police, said he also keeps an eye on Evergreen Park.

If he sees something amiss, he investigates, but he said his presence alone is helping.

“I’m a big believer in deterring crime,” he said.

Incidents that have been reported in the past month or so have been minor — benches have been “tagged” with spray painted graffiti, and some fights have reportedly broken out on the outskirts of the city’s green space. But to Boynton, this uptick in crime is reminiscent of a problem that could be brewing again.

“Several years ago, at Evergreen Park, we got complaints of gang activity,” Boynton said. “People felt intimidated going to the park.”

The problem escalated to shootings and stabbings, he said, and officers went undercover to make arrests and resolve the issue.

At that time, gang-related crimes saw a steep increase — from 216 incidents in 2006 to 372 in 2007.

“It’s hard to play catch-up,” he said. “Seeing this early on, we’re making our presence known … you’re more effective when you’re highly visible than working undercover.”

Cyndi Powers lives in the Maplewood neighborhood, which borders Evergreen Park to the south, and said that she remembers the gang activity.

“You would walk out the door, and, ‘Oh God, here they come,’ and two big groups would be squaring off ready to fight,” she said.

Powers hasn’t seen a lot of gang activity in a while and is thankful for proactive measures by both Vancouver police and the Neighbors on Watch volunteers who patrol the streets and notify police if they see something off. She adds that she encourages her neighbors to help out in curbing crime.

“I keep trying to get neighbors to go out in their yard … talk to these kids,” she said. “It makes it more difficult for them to do harm.”

Lately, Cpl. Boynton has noticed a group hanging out at Water Works Park; some of them, he said, are known gang members.

For example, K-Last Karuo, an 18-year-old from Vancouver, was arrested April 21 on suspicion of felony assault and first-degree robbery after an altercation at Water Works Park.

The incidents, however, aren’t yet worrisome.

“I wouldn’t even call this a problem yet,” Boynton said.

Boynton said calls to the park are infrequent, with police getting called to the park less than once a week. By comparison, police were called to Evergreen Park nearly every night during the gang problem several years ago.

When Boynton sees groups of people in the park — whether it’s a group of transients or teenagers with skateboards — he is known to walk up to them and speak to them without the “police attitude,” as he calls it. Most of the time, he picks up tidbits of information, confirming various rumors.

Boynton said he knows what he is doing has deterred crime. When he drives through the park in his unmarked patrol car, some people notice the spotlights, the grille guard or his badge and take off almost immediately.

“People that leave are typically the ones who are up to no good,” he said.

Emily Gillespie: http://twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.

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