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Forest Groves top cop brings her Everybody is Somebody motto to BJs

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Police Chief Janie Schutz says she works with a great set of people whose different personalities balance each other out. Among them is colleague Mike Herb.Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz has no problem calmly recounting the 2003 incident where a convicted felon knocked her down with his car door, bashed a liquor bottle into her head, picked her up “like a barbell” and threw her to the ground on her gun side, making her an easy target for a fatal shot — if he’d tried to fire one.

Schutz knows her job as a police officer puts her at risk from “the bad guys.” But through her 26 years in the profession, she has learned it’s not only the “bad guys” who can hurt you.

“There will always be so-called ‘good guys’ who try to work their own personal agenda into the mix,” she said, “disregarding the ethical and moral standards at the base of law enforcement.”

As Forest Grove’s police chief, Schutz tries to keep ethical behavior and accessibility at the heart of her work.

The accessibility will be on display next Wednesday, April 2, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. at BJ’s Coffee, when Schutz hopes people will stop by and sit down for a few minutes at “Coffee With a Cop.” (See sidebar on page A14.)

She’s open to everything from a brief hello to a discussion about unmarked crosswalks, like she had with Heather Rose at last week’s Citizens Academy. Although her first year here turned out to be one of the most challenging years in the history of Forest Grove’s police department, it hasn’t changed Schutz’s love for the COURTESY PHOTO: JANIE SCHUTZ - My kids take up my life, says Janie Schutz, whose six children range in age from 21 to 32, with the youngest graduating from college this spring. Two others live in Florida (including one who handles public relations for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), one teaches English at the University of Michigan, one works for Microsoft and one works with orphanages in Nicaragua.

“Being a cop fits my personality 110 percent,” said the woman whose first career dream, at age 10, was to be a criminal defense attorney.

Schutz doesn’t know where that idea came from — certainly not from her father, who worked in real estate, or her politically active mother, who was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the President’s Committee on on Mental Retardation (Schutz has a learning-disabled sister).

Born in Michigan, Schutz was raised in New Jersey, then returned to Michigan to get her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Michigan State University, where basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson was in one of her criminal justice classes.

She met her husband in high school in New Jersey, joined him at MSU and was pregnant by the time she began attending nearby Cooley Law School.

Then her husband got a veterinary job in Wisconsin, where they moved and began raising their family of six children, now aged 21 through 32.

That’s also where Schutz switched career dreams — from lawyer to police officer, partly due to the lack of a nearby law school. She started as a 911 operator and got her first official police officer job in 1988 in sleepy Brandon, Wisc., population 1,800.

In 1994, she moved to North Carolina, where her husband took a job with Equip International, an evangelical mission organization that made use of his veterinary skills.

Schutz continued her law-enforcement career, graduating first in her class of 32 police academy students.

It wasn’t enough to get her a job at the sheriff’s department in that southern state. “I was a woman,” said Schutz, and “they wouldn’t put women on the road.”

So she ended up as an officer in Marion, a town of 8,000 with a lot of drug activity. Schutz worked her way up to a sergeant position in 2009 and, after a few small stints elsewhere, was hired as police chief in Wadesboro, where she confronted gang activity and home invasions.

In less than six months, Schutz heard reports from “the street” of gang members making death threats against her. That didn’t stop her from cooperating with the FBI on a yearlong undercover operation which ended up with 17 convictions related to drugs, gangs, robberies and racketeering charges.

But Schutz wasn’t just about high-profile arrests.

In racially mixed Wadesboro, where the leaders were white but the population was 60 percent black, Schutz was drawn to “the projects,” populated primarily by impoverished black families.

“I was probably the first chief the people in Wadesboro’s projects ever saw daily,” said Schutz.

At the projects, she mentored a young man. She bought squirt guns and sidewalk chalk for the children. She befriended some drunks who hung out at an abandoned car wash, eventually buying little tripod chairs for this group of “throw-away people,” as she knew society saw them.

“They did not expect a white woman in a southern town to be interested in them,” said Schutz, whose motto is “Everybody is Somebody.”

Schutz still carries that passion for equal accessibility, no matter where people fall in the social hierarchy. In Forest Grove, that applies both outside and inside the police department.

That might mean leaving work long past the end of her official workday, or visiting the night-shift officers in her civilian clothes at 10 o’clock to see how they’re doing, or quickly switching from a weighty, high-stakes discussion with command staff to a friendly chat with a citizen.

“She makes a great effort to interact with rank and file folks,” said Capt. Mike Herb, the department’s public information officer. “She does not give the impression that she’s too high up or too important to talk to.”

Not all law enforcement leaders do that, Herb said.

When Schutz arrived in Forest Grove in October 2012, she was “what our agency needed at a time when, frankly, she needed us,” said Herb.

In a story about her departure, “The Anson Record” wrote that Schutz had never before encountered the culture or racial tensions she found in Wadesboro and quoted her saying, “I tried to respect the culture. You know, everyone’s different, but I try to treat everyone fairly ... My first day on the job, I made a traffic stop and floored everyone in this town ... And I still had a hard time grasping, ‘So, what does a chief do when she sees something illegal? Shouldn’t she do something about it?’”

From Schutz’s perspective, Forest Grove was a peaceful community, where “shots fired” calls occurred twice a month instead of twice a week. There were no Bloods and Crips. And there was no sign of the “good old boy” system that seemed so alive and well in Wadesboro.

From the city’s perspective, Schutz brought an integrity and transparency that was suddenly needed, just three weeks into her job.

That’s when one of her two captains was accused of misconduct by Cornelius officers. Schutz put him on leave while he was being investigated and he retired shortly after the investigation finished.

That move “sent a very loud and clear message to the entire agency that this was a chief that’s going to do what’s right and do it by the book,” said Herb, who could imagine other chiefs not acting as swiftly or decisively as Schutz.

But now she was down one officer just as a spate of graffiti attacks swept the city—and as January brought her biggest crisis yet: One of Schutz’s closest colleagues, Lisa Cannon, a key administrator in the office, called 911 to report a domestic abuse incident at her Forest Grove home involving her husband, Tim Cannon, then a Hillsboro police officer.

The incident ended up threatening the lives of not just Lisa, but many of Schutz’s officers. “It was emotionally draining. It was personal,” she said.

Schutz also needed to learn about levies and unions — things she had never encountered in previous positions — and about Oregon law, which places far more importance on individual rights than North Carolina did, she said.

And she was studying every spare minute for the state qualifying exam because “If I didn’t pass that, I wasn’t going to be chief.”

In addition, “I was lonely,” said Schutz. As head of the police department, she had to keep a certain distance from her fellow officers. But her husband, Jeff, didn’t join her in Forest Grove until June. He now works in a Scappoose veterinary hospital.

In September, the couple bought a house in Old Town, not far from the tragic October event that capped Schutz’s tumultuous first year — the heartbreaking deaths of two young sisters who were struck and killed by a car as they played in a leaf pile.

Through all the turmoil, Schutz said she has tried to emphasize the service element of police work.

“A lot of cops think policing is all ‘bad guys,’” she said. But as she tells her officers, “If they’re aware of their surroundings and opening themselves up to all that life has to offer, every day something is put in front of them they can act upon and feel good about.

“Maybe it’s a wave to a child. Maybe it’s responding to a domestic (disturbance) with a real belief that if you do and say the right thing, you may transform a life, if it’s simply for a night.”

Getting to know your officers

The Forest Grove cop shop is trying several different ways to connect with citizens:

- Coffee with a Cop: This community meet-and-greet at BJ’s Coffee from 7 to 9 a.m. next Wednesday, April 2, is just one way Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz is trying to reach out to her community.

According to Capt. Mike Herb, Schutz wants to create a casual, non-threatening setting that will draw people who have been wondering about some law-related issue but haven’t felt it’s important enough to drive to the police station or make an official appointment with the chief.

Several other officers will accompany Schutz, said Herb, who hopes people will think, “What the heck, I’ll sit down and ask them about this thing I’ve been thinking about.”

Schutz read about the idea in a magazine for police chiefs and asked Herb to find out more from the California department that created it.

Those who decline to buy coffee are still welcome to chat.

- Virtual Ride-along: Mike Herb will be starting virtual ride-alongs in several weeks, making Forest Grove the first Portland-area police department to do so.

The standard ride-along involves a single person riding in a patrol car with a police officer to see what kinds of situations they encounter during the officer’s shift.

But thousands of people will be able to participate in the virtual ride-along, in which Herb will wield technology from the passenger seat of a patrol car on a Thursday or Friday evening, posting regular updates on what’s happening, including photos and videos, as well as answering questions from his audience and offering crimefighting tips.

“It’s very interactive,” said Herb, who got the idea from an article he read in a law-enforcement magazine. “I’ll be following the calls and giving play-by-play.”

The event will be accessible to the 2,700 people already connected with the department through Facebook, as well as its Twitter followers. To join in, simply “like” the FGPD Facebook page or “follow” the department on Twitter.

- Citizens Academy: This eight-week course, which teaches citizens about the workings of the Forest Grove Police Department, jumped in popularity this year. The academy’s original signup goal of 25 expanded to 32 and still left three people on a waiting list. In past years, Herb said, attendance has ranged from 18 to 23 students. While it’s too late to join this year’s course, which ends April 16, people can call the department at 503-992-3260 to learn about signing up for next year.

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