Region's new chiefs of police offer views on their communities
Urban police chiefs throughout the nation tend to come and go as the political winds shift from city hall. But not so suburban chiefs, who often stay in their jobs for decades.
So it was interesting to note that all three cities along Washington County's eastern edge changed chiefs of police in less than a year: The City of Tualatin named Bill Steele as chief in June 2016. Beaverton promoted Jim Monger to the top job in January. And in March, Tigard lured Kathy McAlpine away from the Tacoma, Wash., police department.
The Times sat down with all three chiefs recently to discuss their jobs and their communities (See story, Page A1). We've broken the interview down into four parts for print, with the transcripts of each section online.
This week, we asked the chiefs about suburban policing, about shared resources, and about our quickly growing communities — growing in size, but also growing more diverse.
We liked the chiefs' answers about sharing resources. Most people don't know this, but if you call 911 and ask for help, emergency dispatch personnel don't care where you live or where you pay taxes. They'll route the closest officer your direction, regardless of jurisdiction. That's as it should be and, we suspect, it doesn't work that way in many communities throughout the United States, where "turf and politics" are more firmly engrained than "serve and protect."
We also were pleased to hear that all three chiefs acknowledge that the cities within Washington County — and the unincorporated sections between cities — will grow dramatically in the next few decades. By some estimates, we could see an influx equal to the combined populations of present-day Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood — that's an estimated 300,000 new residents.
Think Washington County is crowded now, whether it's in regard to traffic or classroom size? Wait until thousands of housing units come online. Which they will.
But police departments likely will not see their budgets grow at the same rate. City councils will not be hurling vast sums of additional money at the chiefs over the next five, 10 or 20 years. That's because, as residents move in and property taxes roll in, the need for that money also grows: In the form of new streets, new services, new library services, upgraded water, sewer and storm systems, etc. Police will get some of the new money, but not enough to keep up.
We were pleased to see that all three chiefs understood the conundrum they face.
We were less pleased about some other answers. For instance, we asked, "When you're recruiting new officers, what specifically are you looking for?" We were hoping to hear some obvious answers: More women, more diversity, more cultural competency, more foreign language skills. We didn't hear any of that. A police department should resemble — as near as possible — the community it serves. That's almost never 100 percent possible, but surely it's a stretch goal.
Instead, the chiefs said they want recruits who make good decisions.
Well, sure. We want that in police officers. Also bakers, piano teachers, web designers and podiatrists. Nobody wants recruits to any job who make bad decisions.
We hold first-responders to a higher standard.
Perhaps our favorite answer from the chiefs — from experience, we know this one to be true — is that they do not get invited into the community to answer questions or to explain what they do. This has been true for decades; not just in Washington County, but elsewhere. It's exceedingly easy to complain about traffic, or about public protests, or about police interactions with immigrants, or with people of color. But complaining only gets you so far, and asking the officers to come to your organization, to sit down and engage in dialogue, is invaluable. And all too rare. These three chiefs, and chiefs before them, have stated the problem: Some people don't like what they do, and some people don't understand what they do, but too few people ask them to drop in and explain what they do.
The over-used term "community policing" is about "community" as much as it is about "policing." It comes from the same Latin roots as "communicate," and it's a two-way street.
We will be sharing the chiefs' thoughts, both in print and online, throughout the month of June. If you read the series and don't see a question or an answer you want, drop us a note or call the newspaper. We'll be glad to get a response.
Or better yet: Call your chief.