Hillsboro's new police chief Jim Coleman discusses priorities
Even with 29 years in law enforcement, serving as a deputy chief in two departments, Jim Coleman says he still couldn't anticipate the time demands of being a city's top law enforcement official.
"I don't think you really understand until you become the chief of police," Coleman said.
Coleman was named chief of the Hillsboro Police Department in February after former chief Lee Dobrowolski retired in October.
After nearly three months as chief, Coleman said he has been learning how best to balance being a strong presence in the community and being a reliable leader in the department, tasks made only more important as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
As head of the department in Oregon's fifth-largest city, Coleman said his goal is to make the department a model agency for the region while increasing the safety of the community.
Hillsboro anticipates substantial population growth in the coming years, and Coleman said the department will need to grow its capacity, both in terms of the number of sworn officers it employs and their ability to serve an increasingly diverse community.
"One of my biggest roles as a leader is the development of the next generation of leaders," Coleman said. "A lot of that is the diversity of the department, trying to reflect the community. You have to look to give people opportunities and be a trusting leader that allows people to take on challenges."
Coleman said he's determined to "take a very hard look" at how the department does community engagement with the expectation that officers renew their emphasis on building bridges between police and groups that have historically been underserved.
"I want to get away from a one-size-fits-all community approach," Coleman said. "It's not just communities of color, it's gender, it's sexual orientation, it's socioeconomic status."
At Hillsboro's annual State of the City address in January, days before Coleman was named chief, Mayor Steve Callaway said the department would be launching a new "community policing" initiative to better serve minority groups.
Coleman said the department is still developing the initiative. However, he plans to dedicate multiple full-time staff to engaging with minority-owned businesses and community organizations.
Growing the department's capacity won't come without challenges, Coleman said. Law enforcement agencies across the country have been long struggling to recruit and maintain officers.
Coleman said Hillsboro is a relatively safe community, and unlike many departments, which are often overwhelmed with calls for service, Coleman said officers in Hillsboro can spend the time on calls for service that they require.
But he said the risk of being short-staffed is always present.
"We're just like any other employer. People have challenges in their personal lives. Sometimes we find ourselves short-staffed because people are dealing with things that take them out of the workplace," Coleman said. "We've got enough employees today, but we know the city is growing and it won't be enough tomorrow, and secondly, we can get in trouble really quickly in law enforcement because it takes so long to get someone from the day they express interest to the day they're actually capable of going out there and doing the job on their own."
Bolstering the department's capacity will allow the officers to better serve victims, particularly of domestic abuse and other violent crimes, Coleman said.
Coleman said a recent spike in gun-related incidents highlights the department's need to play a role in bolstering crisis intervention resources.
"We've certainly had an increase in our officer-involved shootings, our uses of deadly force, in the last year to 18 months," Coleman said.
Two recent incidents resulted in officers fatally shooting suspects.
"What I would say is the common thread through them is mental health issues, alcohol and drugs," Coleman observed. "Over the course of the last couple of decades, we've really become the field experts for mental health. We know what crisis looks like. We absolutely have to be part of the solution."
Coleman said he and other officers have recently been adapting to the job during a different kind of crisis: the coronavirus pandemic.
He said his first priority was to make sure staff had sufficient personal protective equipment. Despite those efforts, three of his employees tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, earlier this month.
Everyone at the department is wishing them a quick recovery, Coleman said.
His goal during the pandemic is to model "some sense of normalcy" for staff and the community, Coleman said.
He said people should still feel comfortable calling for service if filing a report over the phone or online won't suffice, adding that staff has been working full-time to make sure officers can work safely.
Like many people, Coleman is taking steps to deal with added stress during the pandemic. He said he and his daughter are determined not to experience the "COVID-15" — weight gain as a result of less activity.
"And I do binge-watch (the TV show) 'Better Call Saul,'" Coleman said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.