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The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 turned Ernie Happala from a golf pro to a cop.

King City Police Chief Ernie HappalaAs a youngster growing up in Scappoose, King City Police Chief Ernie Happala had a pair of interests: Golf and law enforcement. As luck would have it, Happala was able to fulfill both wishes.

"My dad was a state trooper, for a while, out in Columbia County, where we lived," Happala said. "All his friends were police officers or state troopers, so it was just something I was exposed to at a pretty young age."

In 1989, Happala hooked up with the Scappoose Police Department, then switched gears in 1992 by becoming a PGA golf pro, a role he held for 13 years.

"My last job, before I got back into law enforcement, was the head pro director of instruction for the city of Lake Oswego," he said.

It was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that nudged Happala away from golf and back toward law enforcement.

"I remember I was in Lake Oswego (the day of the attacks)," Happala said. "It was a beautiful day. I was teaching on the range there, watching fighter jets circle Portland. It was one of those deals where I'm like: I'm out here teaching a game and people are dying right now in New York."

Happala continued, "I have always been big into service, service to your fellow person, your community that you live in. It drew me back."

Happala rejoined the Scappoose Police Department, then became an officer with the King City department in 2007.

"Basically, when I started (in King City) there was Chief Chuck Fessler and four officers," Happala said. "There were times when you could see that there was a need for a sergeant."

Happala started going to supervisory classes, offered through the state, and eventually became sergeant.

After serving as sergeant for a couple of years, Happala became lieutenant. "I was in the lieutenant's position a pretty short time, about six months, before Chief Fessler retired," he said. "They moved me into the interim chief position."

The King City Police Department currently consists of the chief, a lieutenant and four full-time officers. Another two work part-time in the department. There is also a support staffer who works for the municipal court and handles court records. A chaplain also serves the agency.

Officers primarily respond to calls within King City, but the agency will respond outside the area, if needed. "If we're called there, we'll go," he said.

The citizens of King City have a history of supporting their police department. For instance, voters overwhelmingly approved a renewal of a police services local option levy at the Nov. 4, 2014, election. Among the aims of that measure: Maintain police services at their current level, increase supervision, retain experienced officers and provide officer training. The city plans to seek another police funding measure later this year.

"They (King City residents) are incredibly supportive," Happala said. "This is a wonderful community to work and live in — they are overwhelmingly supportive of us as a police department. I can't say enough about the community. They've been wonderful."

No two days are the same in the law enforcement profession, but Happala said he is ready for each day's challenges.

"It's a calling," Happala said. "It's one of the most fulfilling jobs, even though sometimes people might not say 'thank you' all the time."

He continued: "I'm providing education. I'm providing tools for other officers to be successful. To be able to lead people is the greatest honor of my life – to meet some of the people that are here has just been amazing. It has been a history lesson — I find that when every day I wake up, I am always ready to go to work."


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