2017: New police chiefs settle in at Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin
Editor's note: This story is part of the The Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that captivated readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
In June 2016, Kent Barker retired as police chief of Tualatin, and Bill Steele took the reins the following month.
Jim Monger took over from Geoff Spaulding as Beaverton's police chief in July 2016 as well. After several months as interim chief, Monger was named to the permanent position in January 2017.
Tigard brought on Kathy McAlpine as its new police chief in April 2017, several months after the retirement of Alan Orr.
Within less than a year, the police chiefs of eastern Washington County's three largest cities had been replaced wholesale. The shakeup meant some changes at local departments — and provided an opportunity for the three new chiefs to compare notes and work together as they settled into their roles.
The Times arranged an interview with all three chiefs on May 26, 2017. What ensued was a wide-ranging discussion of what it means to be a suburban police chief, how growth in Washington County affects emergency services, and what law enforcement agencies can do to improve relations with people of color and immigrants who may distrust them.
Throughout the month of June 2017, The Times published a series of question-and-answer articles taken from the interview, titled "Three Chiefs."
The law enforcement leaders came from varying backgrounds.
Steele worked for about 20 years at the Washington County Sheriff's Office, serving as interim police chief in Forest Grove in 2012. Monger was a veteran of the Beaverton Police Department who was promoted after Spaulding retired. McAlpine was assistant police chief in a larger city — Tacoma, Washington — before Tigard hired her in 2017.
"With the perspective of having come from Tacoma, and being pretty much self-sufficient and stand-alone, to come here … I get to see the pitching in," McAlpine told The Times. "It's all about resolving the situation for the time being and not worrying about jurisdictional lines. I'm very impressed thus far on the cooperation that I see."
Monger explained further: "When a priority call comes in, the dispatcher will send the closest law enforcement officer to that location. Not concerned about the jurisdiction, or lines on a map; it really doesn't matter. We're going to send cops to that call, and get the public served, and stabilize the scene as quickly as we can. Once that's done, as far as jurisdiction — is it Tigard, Tualatin, Sheriff's Office, even Portland? — we'll figure that out afterwards."
Tigard was, and still is, growing very quickly. Beaverton is growing fast as well, its population approaching 100,000 as the calendar turns to 2020.
McAlpine said Tigard police were being spread increasingly thin even in 2017, and she anticipated the problem would get worse.
"Having those conversations now, planting those seeds and making even small adjustments, I think that is our responsibility," McAlpine said.
Beaverton declared itself a sanctuary city in January 2017 — a largely symbolic gesture, considering that state law already doesn't allow local or state law enforcement to use their resources to enforce federal immigration law. Tualatin debated a similar measure but ultimately declared itself an inclusive city instead.
Steele suggested in the interview with The Times that terms like "sanctuary" can give people the wrong idea. Elected officials in Tualatin were wary of embracing the term, since cities have no say over federal law enforcement operations, and even though police won't investigate and arrest people because they're in the country illegally, they could still face deportation under certain circumstances.
"Each community has a little bit different of a flair to it, and a little bit different understanding," Steele said.
The chiefs agreed that law enforcement officers and leaders had their work cut out for them, as a string of high-profile deaths of African Americans at the hands of police or while in custody — among them Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed in 2014 in what was ultimately ruled to be a justified use of force; Freddie Gray, who died in the back of a police van in Baltimore in 2015, although officers were later acquitted of his homicide; and Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in her jail cell after being arrested during a traffic stop in Texas in 2015 in what was officially declared to be a suicide — had strained relations between law enforcement and communities of color.
"Because of the size of Tacoma and the diversity, we were addressing it, working with the community," McAlpine remarked. "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."
"I truly feel it's the responsibility of law enforcement to be proactive in really try to get out in the community," Steele agreed. "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."
McAlpine and Steele continue to serve as police chiefs in Tigard and Tualatin, respectively. Monger retired in June 2019.
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