UMATILLA - The Umatilla Police Department has been awarded a grant to address potential hazards to Umatilla and surrounding communities. But the department received significantly less than the amount it had asked for.

The Department of Homeland Security for Domestic Preparedness awarded the department $8,400, much less than $42,000 it originally applied for.

Areas identified as potential hazards include Two Rivers Correctional Institution, agricultural chemical distributors, Oregon Department of Transportation, railroads, dams, public works and the ports.

"We applied for a grant and got partial funding to try and incorporate the neighborhood watch program," said Detective Darla Huxel of UPD. "The premise is to employ the neighborhood watch technique to report suspicious activities."

The police department wanted to hire a full-time, year-round coordinator to implement the program through October 2005, but will settle for now with a part-time facilitator, Huxel said.

Umatilla Police hired Officer Gretchen Erickson as a liaison among businesses, the police and the public to coordinate the program. She will work on a part-time basis, coming out of retirement after working for the Hermiston Police Department for 22 years.

Erickson's specialty has been the Neighborhood Watch Program, using citizens to help the police make the city a safer place.

Her plan of action in Umatilla is to focus on one of the hazard areas, contacting supervisors at the business and learning from them, gaining awareness and of what is normal and what is not, Erickson said.

Erickson will analyze the information and share the information with UPD.

"I will contact people living in and around the site and educate them to stay aware and report suspicious activity to the police," Erickson said. "So often people feel they bother the police when calling or they're embarrassed to call. They are afraid if they call and it turns out to be a cat in the garbage can they are going to be embarrassed. We want to break down those barriers and build a bridge between the community and the police department so people feel comfortable calling in their suspicions."

In order to bridge the gap, Erickson will need to use her expertise with the Neighborhood Watch to teach people to trust their instincts, Huxel said.

"The city as a whole wants to get more community involvement," Huxel said. "We are trying to take baby steps and this is a baby step."

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