Latest East Precinct Commander, Erica Hurley, has difficult job
Since there were no public, in-person community meetings being held by East Precinct during most of 2020, due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – it went mostly unnoticed that Portland Police Bureau (PPB) East Precinct Commander Tashia Hager had retired from the Bureau, and Erica Hurley had replaced her.
East Precinct not only serves most of Outer East Portland, but also Inner Southeast, west to Chavez Boulevard (formerly S.E. 39th).
Commander Hurley told us that she worked a variety of odd jobs while in school to pay for college – before she started with the PPB in September, 1994 at 21 years of age.
"My father was a sergeant in the Portland Police Bureau for over 30 years," Hurley reported. "He would come home with stories of helping people and making a difference. Although I wanted to eventually go to law school, I fell in love with police work, and never went to law school."
While all new officers are assigned a seasoned PPB officer as their mentor starting out, hers turned out to be her father. "He always gave me the best advice – even if I did not always follow it.
"The most important lesson I learned from my father is my faith in the Lord, and at how I look at the world," recalled Hurley. "He would say, 'Here, by the grace of God go I'; and, he advised me to remember that the people I encounter in my job are people, and that they deserve respect. Although some of these people may have done bad things, I have not walked in their shoes, nor do I know their pain."
What she took from that was, "I will do my job, protect the community, and sometimes that means arresting people and taking them to jail; but I will always treat them as people, and with respect," Hurley said.
Before being named East Precinct Commander, Hurley had previous assignments here: "I was a patrol officer from 1994-2002, then spent a short time in specialty bureau units before going back to patrolling the streets until 2009, when I took my first promotion test.
"Since then, I have worked in the Chiefs' office, Personnel, Auto Theft Task Force, Detective Division, and Elder Crimes unit," Hurley recollected. "Then, I became Captain of the Training Division, and then Commander of Transit Division, before coming to East Precinct as Commander."
In a sense, this assignment means "coming home" for her, having worked at East Precinct in the past.
Gains from on-the-street experience
"I have tried to learn everything I can, at each of my stops along my career," Hurley informed. "One of the keys to being a good leader in law enforcement is not forgetting what it was like to be an officer on the street.
"Remembering how hard that job is, and remembering that my job is to take care of my people, so they can take care of the community."
Asked by THE BEE about her views regarding the much-used phrase, "Community Policing", Hurley thoughtfully responded, "Community Policing means different things to different people.
"When I was a young officer in the PPB, it meant having enough officers for them to 'take ownership' in their district – meaning having relationships with the business owners in their area, knowing the community, and knowing where problems existed," expanded Hurley. "It meant helping to prevent crime and work with the community – as opposed to just responding to crime.
"Today, with our [current, lower] staffing levels, we do not have the ability to spend much time on proactive police work – as officers run from 911 call to the next 911 call," Hurley pointed out. "Although our officers do their best to form relationships with the community, they have little time for it, and do not have time to deal with smaller livability issues, because they are responding to shootings, homicides, and other violent crimes.
"This does not mean we cannot do community policing again; however, to do it properly, and in the manner I think the public expects from us, we will need many more police officers."
Strives to provide 'servant leadership'
Asked to describe her philosophy of leadership, as East Precinct Commander, Hurley responded simply, "I try to emulate 'servant leadership'.
"This means taking care of my officers and employees by listening to their needs; doing my best by them; believing in them; and, letting them know I trust them to do the excellent job they do every day," Hurley continued.
"It also means listening to their ideas, as they are often smarter than me. I believe if I take care of the officers, they can take care of the community. And, I also believe in modeling my expectations – including treating others as I want to be treated, and working hard myself, as I expect them to."
Thoughts on reducing shooting violence
According to 2020 PPB statics, about half of all Portland shooting incidents occurred in just one jurisdiction – East Precinct – last year.
Asked what, given the resources available, can officers and command staff at East Precinct do to reduce the criminal behavior of people who use guns, Hurley responded frankly, "We do not have the resources or ability at this time to be proactive in helping reduce the shootings and criminal use of weapons.
"My officers make stops and seize guns all the time; but, without a dedicated unit, that's is not enough to make a difference – as of the end of January we had 100 shootings in 2021 in the City."
Turning to significant challenges East Precinct officers and command staff face in Inner Southeast Portland, currently, Commander Hurley replied, "I think livability issues are what I hear about most from the community, in all of S.E. Portland.
"The number of homeless camps, and the crime and garbage that is a result of these camps, is the one thing most affecting the ability of our community to live and raise their families in Portland."
Inner Southeast Portland residents can best help law enforcement to solve, or to help reduce these crimes, by creating or joining groups in the community and/or neighborhoods, the Commander suggested.
"Everyone needs to meet and know their neighbors, and work together to ask for the resources from the city to address the individual issues in their neighborhood. Residents need to get their voices heard by the Portland City Council, as well as by the Police Bureau; and the only way to do that is to speak up at City Council meetings, and join community groups."
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