02-19-2017  7:55 pm      •     

With all the bitter debate about police accountability in Portland that has roared to the forefront of media headlines over the past few months, little ink has been spilled covering the Portland Police Bureau's many community service projects.

However the federally-funded G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) Program – arguably a cornerstone of the bureau's youth violence and community outreach efforts – is facing massive defunding in Congress' 2011 budget.
"It's small money compared to building bombs or building jails or putting the kids through the justice system in a bad way," says Sgt. Frank Gorgone, a G.R.E.A.T. trainer.
"Having us come into the classroom costs next to nothing."
The Portland Police Bureau operates the national organization's western regional training center, which serves 10 states and has provided structured education in life skills for almost half a million elementary and middle school kids.
In the Portland area, about 3,000 youths and pre-teens have graduated through the program for each of the past 16 years.
Sen. Ron Wyden has taken up the cause, lobbying members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to restore national GREAT funding to the tune of $20 million.
Wyden, in a March 3 letter to Subcommittee chair Barbara Mikulsi and ranking member Richard Shelby, acknowledged that GREAT's funding was cut due to a "lack of data" on the program's effectiveness.
He argues that a long-term study on the program is scheduled for completion in 2012.
"Already, preliminary results of the study show that youth participating in GREAT demonstrate lower rates of gang membership, lower rates of self-reported delinquency, and more positive attitudes towards police," Wyden wrote.

Volunteer Force
Gorgone says the heart of the program involves a volunteer crew of about 45 Portland police officers that takes on the task of teaching highly-structured 6- to 13-week education programs in local schools and community centers – on top of their regular 40-hour-a-week patrol duties.
"It's not always been supported –we've had people over the years in command places in the past that would undermine us going into the classrooms -- they would make it harder for us to do it," Gorgone says.
"If anything the people that do it -- isn't helping their career it hurts it because it's cutting into their own time, and it's not always considered by other cops the thing to do," Gorgone said.
Officers are assigned to teach at schools in the areas where they patrol.
"It absolutely helps the way we can police on the street – because it all crosses over," he said.
In 2002 the program expanded to include whole families in the trainings, with the goal of improving communication skills between parents and their kids.
"The whole goal of the families program is to take a family no matter how they're functioning and just strengthen them and hopefully bring them up a notch in their family relationships," Gorgone said.
One of the things built into the families' curriculum is that the officers and the families share a meal every week. "So we all break bread together, they end up asking questions, we end up getting to know each other," Gorgone said.
Officers wear civilian clothes until the last of the program's six sessions, Gorgone said, making a point of building one-on-one relationships that transcend the gun and the badge.
"What we try to do especially with the immigrant community in the Cully neighborhood, we're letting them get to know police officers in a totally different way," he said. "Most of them have no real firsthand experience with us."

Lobbying for Funding

North Precinct Commander Jim Ferraris, the G.R.E.A.T. representative serving on the group's national policy board, traveled to Washington D.C. earlier this month to lobby lawmakers to preserve the program.
Ferraris visited Wyden, and Wyden subsequently turned up the heat on influential players on appropriations budget committees.
"We are all over the G.R.E.A.T. Program," says Wyden's Oregon Communications Director Tom Towslee.
Meanwhile, GREAT Program graduations are coming up at Ockley Green, George and Portsmouth Middle Schools, and Rosa Park Elementary.
Gorgone says police departments across the nation are trying to draw attention to the G.R.E.A.T. Program right now to galvanize support for federal funding. But ironically, he says, the media's attention is driven by shootings and scandals rather than community policing tools that bring officers into classrooms without their uniforms and weapons.
"There are 45 officers who have been doing this for a long time, and they do it with no thanks -- they rearrange their life to do it," Gorgone said.
"Everybody that does it, it's done out of passion for no other reason than they enjoy doing it."


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All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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