East Precinct Commander reflects on law enforcement challenges, in 'ride along'
Having been named the Portland Police Bureau's Commander for East Precinct a few months ago, Tashia Hager has been thinking about how her experiences as a cop for the past 25 years has helped prepare her for this assignment.
While touring several of the neighborhoods of Inner Southeast Portland, between S.E. 82nd Avenue of Roses and Chavez Blvd (the former 39th, the western boundary of East Precinct) with THE BEE on a mid-August afternoon, Commander Hager shared her thoughts on law enforcement.
"I grew up in Stayton, and I've been interested in helping protect communities for a long time. I started out as a Police Cadet when I was 16," Hager began.
"Originally I thought I'd be in law enforcement in some type of federal job, but it didn't turn out that way; I kept working for a local police department instead," Hager recalled. "I would say, for me, it was always like 'a calling'; I've never considered doing anything else but this."
Hager worked for thirteen years as a patrol officer with the Portland Police Bureau before considering any promotions; then, she spent six years as a Sergeant before being promoted to Lieutenant – serving for four or five years in East Precinct – before becoming a Captain, and then relatively quickly being promoted to the rank of Commander this spring.
But, she didn't study law enforcement in college. "My Bachelors degree is actually in psychology, and my minor is in business; but, I took every law enforcement class that was available."
Mental health challenges increase
Asked if having an education in psychology is helpful as to her a cop, Hager responded, "Today, officers are called, more and more, to interact with people exhibiting psychological difficulties – actually, more than they are to respond to individuals committing crimes.
"When I started out in my career, it would be 95% 'crime' calls to 5% 'disturbance' calls," she said. "I don't know that I want to put a percentage on [such a ratio today]; but, during a good percentage of our calls, officers must deal with someone who has an altered mental state – whether that's mental health, or drugs and alcohol – it's often kind of hard to determine."A unique thing is about East Precinct is that we most likely have the most diverse population of people [in the city]; many here are struggling, economically," Hager reflected.
"It's interesting, about Portland, that [crime related issues are] not necessarily about whole neighborhoods – but, more often, are just street-by-street.
"All it takes is one residence from which drugs are being sold, or which is operating like a flophouse, to bring issues to that area of the neighborhood; and every street in East Precinct has potential for this happening," Hager said.
The "houseless" continue to be a challenge
"One of the things really impacting Portland as a community is our 'houseless' community," Hager commented. "We haven't well-addressed 'houselessness', which is really a symptom of a multitude of other kinds of problems [which includes] mental health, alcohol and drug addiction, and economic disparity.
"And, some 'houseless' people are service-resistant, and do not want to get help," Hager added.
The Commander said she hopes the newly-opened Laurelwood Center in the Foster-Powell neighborhood will be successful for the community.
As for the Springwater Corridor, "Crime along the Springwater Trail is due to the criminal element that exists in that community – like in any community: Those who commit crimes," Hager remarked. "Honestly, and legitimately so, crimes along the trail do have an impact on people's perception of safety. And as crime picks up, we establish more of a police presence, to help make it safer."
Understaffing another challenge"The problem we're having right now is that we're severely understaffed; so, while we're trying to be 'all things to all people', with our staffing shortage it's a challenge – the priority is to make sure that we're available to answer 911 radio calls," explained Hager.
Currently, East Precinct is running about 25 to 30 officers short of what would normally be considered fully-staffed, she told us, as we continued the ride-along.
"Looking back over my 25-year career, the best part is that I have not been bored!" Hager acknowledged. "No two days are alike; while many calls are similar, this job is full of surprises, every day.
"But above that, I like knowing that I am having a positive impact on the community," Hager said. "Yes, the most satisfying thing for me is knowing that I have had a positive impact."
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