Clean streets: A mission

Shawn Hatjes

Campus-area locals have probably noticed Eugene police officer Randy Ellis patrolling the streets, but they may have overlooked his quiet acts of kindness that set him apart from his fellow officers.

The 40-year Eugene Police Department veteran has worked at the West University Neighborhood Station near campus on East 13th Avenue for 10 years, and recently has made cleaning up the neighborhood his own personal mission.

Muriel Brennan, 82, knows firsthand that Ellis will go out of his way to make the streets cleaner.

When Brennan needed some help purchasing large trash bags to collect garbage off the streets of the University campus, Ellis offered her trash bags from the police station.

“She was overjoyed that we would do that,” Ellis said.

Brennan’s daughter, Carol Berg, said Brennan began picking up trash because she wanted some exercise and to help beautify the community. The Oregon Department of Transportation originally provided her with trash bags, but recently stopped after budget cuts, leaving Brennan empty-handed.

“It was a lucky, lucky windfall for him to offer her the bags,” Berg said. “Ellis recognizes that when a community looks better, it gets treated better and that leads to a decrease in crime … because people can see that the community is cared about.” Berg has spent time volunteering with the EPD’s Civilian Review Board and is currently developing a non-profit program to encourage positive relationships between police and community members.

To display her appreciation, Brennan now wears a homemade vest when she goes out to get her exercise. On the back, it reads in bright yellow letters: “Litter bags made possible thanks to EPD officers.”

Ellis’ interest in cleaning up Eugene began a few years ago when he noticed that trash was a big issue in the areas around campus and East 13th Avenue. He bought two trash cans to place near Starbucks and 7-Eleven on the corner of Alder Street and East 13th Avenue to help the problem.

“If people have a place to throw (trash) they’ll get it there,” he said.

There was a noticeable difference in the amount of litter on the streets, but the cans were frequently overflowing. To remedy the problem, Ellis started paying homeless volunteers to take on the task of emptying the trash.

Ellis said he spends about $600 a year out of pocket to pay homeless people who assist with the trash pick-up and to purchase items for donation to the White Bird Clinic
in Eugene.

A budget of $500 a year used to be available for community policing, “but through the years that went away,” explained Ellis. “$600 is not going to kill me.”

Last year Ellis collected donations from other EPD officers to purchase 50 sleeping bags for White Bird, which distributed them to homeless people in the area.

White Bird’s homeless case manager, Brenda Kosydar, said that Ellis “is a great guy.”
“He isn’t out here to work against the homeless people, but with their best interests at heart,” Kosydar said.

While Ellis sometimes faces verbal abuse and resistance from the homeless, Kosydar describes Ellis as “patient and tolerant.”

In her opinion, Ellis’ efforts have contributed to building a more positive community,
especially in the last year.

“Clients are seeing him in a positive light and seeing him as working with, not against people,” she said.

Other donations to White Bird from the West University Neighborhood police station include abandoned bikes that provide White Bird clients access to transportation.

Ellis also spends time painting over graffiti in the area and keeping street posts free of offensive posters and advertisements. He is also conscious about picking up trash and setting a positive example for students and community members to follow. “If it looks like crap, it gets treated like crap,” Ellis said. “It takes a good neighborhood to make it a better place.”

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