In June 2016, the City of Tualatin named Bill Steele as its new chief of police.
Beaverton followed suit in January when Jim Monger was selected as police chief.
Then, in March, it was Tigard's turn, when Kathy McAlpine took the top job.
In less than one calendar year, all three top police jobs along Washington County's eastern edge boasted new leadership.
The Times sat down with all three chiefs on May 26 to ask them about the challenges and changes they see in their communities. Steele, Monger and McAlpine covered a wide array of issues, ranging from the growth and diversity of the region; "sanctuary" cities and tensions with the African-American community; traffic enforcement; recruitment of officers; and common misunderstandings about law enforcement, among other topics.
The Times will run articles throughout the month, based on the chiefs' interview. Go online to see the transcripts of the interview, which have been edited for clarity and length:
Topics this week:
• "Sanctuary" cities
• Nationwide tensions with African-American community.
Question:"Sanctuary" is misunderstood by the community. Are there other issues that complicated and misunderstood?
Chief Jim Monger of Beaverton: As far as immigration … with the recent events, it gives us the opportunity to start to re-educate the public. In Oregon, for over 30 years, we've had laws on the books … we don't enforce immigration violations. We just don't. We don't deliver the U.S. mail, we don't collect taxes; those are a federal role in government. We worry about the local stuff, and the local commitments we have. With the changes that have happened, we're spending a good deal of time meeting with different groups that, perhaps, are in fear of right now, and explaining the differences between the federal government and the local government. I had a meeting at the Islamic (Education) Center of Portland — that's here in Beaverton — and they wanted to talk about hate crimes. We talked about hate crimes are, and the definitions, and it was wonderful because we were invited into their location; they chose the topic, we discussed it, and they have a better understanding. And probably the best part of it was, I had one person come up to me afterwards and said, "I didn't know that. Thank you for explaining the differences. Now I can tell other people in my community what the facts are." That definitely made that evening worthwhile; that one conversation.
Chief Kathy McAlpine of Tigard: I think it's a bit loaded. For the most part, because you're talking about a very emotional situation. And the fact that there are state laws. When we go down then to the city ordinances and our policies and procedures … as soon as we explain it all, that this has been institutionalized for a long period of time, there's quite a bit of relief. But in the meantime, there's an emotional side that says: "I want my city to acknowledge; I want that umbrella, even though there's no backing of it in a legal sense. It's very emotional and personal to them. So from a law enforcement side, we're there to assure them that we're there for them, and there are laws and procedures that protect them. But you know, there's nothing we can do about the emotional side and the political side of things.
Chief Bill Steele of Tualatin: I guess I would add that we work within a pretty well functioning criminal justice system, but it is complex in a number of different ways. And it's important for us to … explain that process along for the average person, who might not come into contact with that system. So we're in a position to do that. The "sanctuary city" concept, that maybe takes just a little bit out of criminal justice and makes it a little bit more difficult to educate people in some ways because there really isn't that clear, firm, established definition that is on the books; has been on the books for a number of years; and that everybody is on the same page. Each community has a little bit different of a flare to it, and a little bit different understanding
Question:Chief McAlpine, was this a big issue up in Washington?
McAlpine: Definitely, more passion here. It may be, as I was leaving Tacoma, the mayor issued an order that we were "welcoming," and explained why we weren't taking the "sanctuary" status. It was very clear that it had to do with federal funding. That was six months ago. The unknown of what a city would really (lose), as far as federal funding. So they immediately said they were "welcoming." and we were doing a lot of stuff with community engagement with the diverse communities. That seemed to be going just fine. Where, here, it's about six months later and I'm watching the surrounding areas and agencies in Washington County, and it's almost as if its a hop, skip and a jump to each town, and everybody's kind of having to address it or get out in front of it. If they're watching what's happening around them. But definitely, a very passionate (argument). I saw on social media that (back in Tacoma) some of the communities, especially the latino community back in Tacoma, were very concerned. And I would see those comments on social media. So I know they weren't totally immune to what was happening. And their circumstances were still very much real to Tacoma.
Question:Have you changed in-service training for officers, in light of new diversity and the "sanctuary" debate?
Monger: We've been doing (diversity) in-service training for many years, and as I mentioned, over 30 years ago, it's just been a model and policing style that I've worked under. With immigration being back in the spotlight, and a concern of the federal government and ICE, I had to go back and re-educate myself because this was just new territory for me. So I needed to revisit the law and revisit our policies. Our policies are in line with the state law. As far as our officers, there were some reminder emails, some training bulletins went out, but it was more reminders of what we've already been doing for the last 30 years. And that we're not going to be changing anything about the way we treat people in our community.
Question:Tension between African-American communities, and other minority communities, through the nation. Has this been an issue in your departments, and how have you death with it?
Steele: I guess, for our department, I won't say it's been an issue because I think, honestly, for us, customer service has always bene ingrained into the department. And that gets down to how you interact and treat people, regardless of the circumstances. If you have your mindset set on that going into it, some of those issues might not present themselves later on down the road. Because you've already got that bond established with the community you're serving, and you're able to prevent a lot of those issues from happening.
McAlpine: And I think, in Tacoma for the last year or year and a half, that was big, because of the national narrative. Because of the size of Tacoma and the diversity, we were addressing it, working with the community. We did have Black Lives Matter. We were there, hand-in-hand, in a lot of the issues. So coming over to Tigard, one, I had the toolsets and saw what probably was effective, and was ready to address any issues that may come up, but also, in the seven weeks that I've been here, it's just been trying to meet various community leaders, especially our diverse ones, whether it's at the (Muslim Educational Trust Center), or with our Latino population; anywhere, anyone who wants to welcome me, I'm happy to have that dialogue. I think it's just being accessible, reaching out and giving the time to listen to the concerns. And then also see what training is, fair-and-impartial policing, the procedural issues; all of those components. I have the opportunity to assess the department as they are. We're very well versed on it; been trained on it, so it's not a new concept. Just ensuring that those conversations have occurred and we do have training in place.
Monger: As far as in Beaverton, the Police Department works closely with the Diversity Advisory Board, which is a city commission, and also the Human Rights Advisory Commission. The one thing that is kind of a challenge for us in law enforcement is getting the invitation to go talk to a particular community group. It's really challenging… All of us, we're willing to have that conversation but, being in uniform, there's a hesitancy to invite us. … A couple of years ago, my predecessor, Chief Spaulding, with the mayor's office, started the agency's breakfast forum. It was post Ferguson, and it was, "Let's get the community together and lets start talking about this." From that, this group became more comfortable with the police, understood what we were doing, that we're not the bad guys out there. But the issues still came up that we needed the invites. So we challenged the group, from not only the Diversity Advisory group, the Human Rights group and others, to go out and invite the police department to a community group. And we will be there. And we will talk about any topic you want to talk about. That actually finally came to fruition at the first meeting at the Islamic Center, where we were invited to their location, and to their community group. They picked the topic and we spoke to it. We cracked the shell just a little bit. It's work we always have to do because, as the community grows … people move into this area, move out of this area, they age from being kids to young adults to homeowners and business owners, and we can't sit back and expect that the good work we did yesterday is good enough. We have to keep these conversations going, today, tomorrow, weeks and years ahead. Because as we grow into the future, the community's changing also. We have to have those continuing conversations.
Steele: I truly feel it's the responsibility of law enforcement to be proactive in really try to get out in the community. We all know that, not at every opportunity, is the public going to come to us and express all of their concerns. We have to be proactive, get out there into the community and take advantage of any opportunity. …. I'm confident in saying that any of the police departments in this local area will take advantage of any opportunity to go out to a community group and talk about whatever, to whatever group, whatever the concern or questions are among that group, we're going to show up and do our best to educate them and to provide that dimension.
Monger: Getting that invite, that's the secret.
McAlpine: And no group is too small. We're going to try something a little different this year, in the fact that we're going to host an open house on June 3 from 11 to 3, invite the community to come in, walk in our facilities, see exactly how we live, show them that it's their police department. We'll have plenty of demonstrations as well, and again, try to break down those barriers and open that communication. I'll be there to introduce myself, my philosophies. We're just hoping that it's a great opportunity to make it a family event. People can come and ask questions, and have that much more confidence in their police department.
Mark Miller and Jaime Valdez contributed to this report.
The Three Chiefs series:
• Suburban policing
• Sharing resources between agencies
• Quickly growing county
• Future growth throughout county
• "Sanctuary" cities
• Tensions with African-American community
• Community Policing
• Traffic enforcement
• Traffic congestion
• Recruiting new officers
• Common misunderstandings of police work
• Impact of social media and the internet
• School resource officers