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'Sanitize' For Portland

Editorial for Feb. 23, 2006

This is what it has come to: The Portland Police Department is now having to advise those who travel to Portland to "sanitize" their vehicles before parking in the city. By sanitize, they mean either remove or hide any valuables from sight before leaving your car.

"Hide even a shopping bag, even if it's empty," one of the Portland police officers advised. "They'll break in to get it if they think there is anything valuable inside."

I found this out first-hand when I called to report that my Ford pickup had its lock jimmied during a visit to the "big city" last week. I've been to Portland a lot over the years, and have never had any trouble. We tend to get complacent, but it's not like I left an envelope stuffed with $50 bills on the dashboard, left my wallet or a camera on the seat, or left my truck in a "seedy" part of town at night. No, this was 4 p.m. on a sunny day, and I was parked on a busy street with houses all around and people walking dogs along the sidewalks. Didn't matter.

I was gone for only about a half hour, yet I returned to find the lock on the passenger door (sidewalk side) had been jimmied. My cell phone was gone, my two cameras were gone, my check book was gone from the glove box, and, oddly, my glasses -- the ones I need for driving -- were gone as well.

The Portland police were extremely helpful and understanding as I filed my report, and the officer I talked with offered me some good advice.

"Spread the word. People coming to Portland need to sanitize their vehicles," he said. "That doesn't mean parking somewhere and putting your stuff in a trunk, because they watch for that. It probably took them about 30 seconds to grab your valuables. They use them to pay for meth."

Of course, although the problem is a lot worse in the urban areas, residents in small communities -- including White Salmon, Bingen, Lyle, and virtually every other community in the country -- are seeing valuables disappear from their cars and homes.

Drug abuse, primarily meth, is fueling most of these crimes. Users are desperate to pay to feed their awful addictions. My goods might have kept some despicable parasite high for a day or two. That's what we're all working full-time to help out with, isn't it?

Now brace for some bad news: Even though the meth epidemic means so many of us are getting hit with home burglaries and car prowls like mine, the budget submitted by President Bush for 2007 cuts federal funding to combat meth by 80 percent.

Take a look: The COPS Program, which puts more officers on our streets (how can any national leader not realize that our law enforcement agencies are already tremendously overworked?), is to be slashed from $570 million to $270 million. The COPS Hot Spots Program, which helps law enforcement agencies clean up hazardous contaminants from meth labs, cut from $64 million to $40 million. The Safe & Drug Free School Program, which provides drug and violence prevention and health promotion activities in elementary and secondary schools, axed from $570 million in 2006 to $217 million for 2007. The Justice Assistance Grants Program, which helps state and local law enforcement agencies fund meth task forces and other important programs, including some right here in southwest Washington: $388 million was provided in 2006, for 2007, President Bush proposes $0. Yes, ZERO.

There is plenty of money for wars without end and more tax cuts, but we can all expect less and less for real programs that make a difference here at home for most Americans. Screwed-up priorities is putting it way too mildly.

And wherever you are, don't forget to "sanitize" the next time you park your car.

JB

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