King City police navigate ups and downs of COVID
The King City Police Department has been on a wild ride with COVID-19.
First there was the mask mandate in Oregon; then masks came off June 30 with lower case counts. Now, thanks to the Delta variant, masks could once again be mandated. Although it's not known at press time how unpredictable the Delta variant will be in Oregon, King City Police Chief Ernie Happala is staying on top of the subject and hopes for better days ahead.
Reached by the Regal Courier, Happala touched on COVID and other issues his small police department faces for the rest of this year and beyond.
Happala was pleased his department navigated through the worst of the pandemic with nobody getting ill from the virus.
"The beginning of the pandemic was a challenge, in that we could not get proper protective gear for officers," Happala said, noting, "It took a lot of phone calls, and to be honest some begging, to get PPE to city employees."
Happala thanked Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue for sharing equipment such as masks, eyewear and gowns. He also thanked Rose City Distillery in Tigard who delivered hand sanitizers to area agencies, including his police department.
Happala was also pleased with how his officers responded during the tough times.
"The officers did very well with schedule changes and did everything asked of them which made a very difficult year a little easier," he said.
During the most restrictive periods of the pandemic, Happala said his department was able to adjust.
"When the pandemic and restrictions were at their tightest, we also changed our responses to certain calls," Happala said. "A lot more phone calls were made on cold calls, we weren't as visible as in the past as we tried to reduce officer and citizen exposure."
While it's uncertain what direction the coronavirus, especially the Delta variant, will take, Happala is hoping for better days, hoping his department can become more visible and conduct more focused patrols, such as speed enforcement.
On other topics facing the King City Police Department, Happala brought up police reform legislation and how well his police department is staffed.
On police reform legistation, Happala said items that touch locally would include reporting misconduct.
"There was more legislation that was passed that specifically targets larger agencies of at least 35, 60 and over 100," Happala said. "We are starting to receive guidance and policies on how to proceed with best practices and implementation of the new legislation."
Pandemic or not, staffing, at times, can frustrate any police agency. In King City's department, addition personnel would be welcome.
"Quite simply, we do not have enough police officers," Happala said. "We are currently down to only four working the road, which includes myself and Lieutenant Brian Sigler."
Happala continued, "We have an officer currently on full-time military duty and one open position. We just hired officer Jon Huffman and he will be off to the academy in August, but will not return until after Thanksgiving."
The King City police agency is actively searching for another officer.
"Hiring officers right now is extremely difficult with a lot of agencies hiring and we are unable to compete against larger agencies, which pay much more than we do," he said.
As to the eventual growth in city population over the next several years, Happala anticipated the need for a larger police department.
As the city grows, Happala says he may eventually need two police officers per shift, once the expansion has been built out.
"The need for additional officers will increase and create opportunities such as a motor position to address traffic issues and complaints," Happala said. "Based on expansion plans, we will have other areas such as the trails, along the river, that would need to be patrolled — all of which would require extra training as well as equipment."
Happala did note, however, that expansion will pay for the added manpower and equipment needed.
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