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Willie Halliburton, longtime Portland cop, almost quit law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd's death.

COURTESY PHOTO: PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Willie Halliburton will serve as Portland State University's new chief of campus public safety.Early on in his career, Willie Halliburton was watching the police reality show, "Cops," on TV. It was at the tail end of the 1980s. He was working for the Johnson County Sheriff's Office in Kansas at the time. Halliburton grew up in Kansas City, Kansas.

He saw an episode featuring Portland police officers.

"They featured this town called Portland, Oregon. I'm watching the show, and there's an African American guy named Harry Jackson," Halliburton recalled. "I'm watching him do police work the way I wanted to do police work. He knew everybody, everybody respected him. He respected everyone else. He did a lot of work with people who were suffering—prostitutes, the drug addicted—he treated everybody with respect. I knew I needed to be around him, and his office called Community Policing, to reach all of my goals."

Halliburton called the Portland Police Bureau after that episode and asked if they were hiring.

He flew in and arranged a ride-along with Jackson before eventually landing a job as a Portland cop. He spent 25 years with PPB before retiring in 2016, but his law enforcement career didn't end there. That same year, he joined Portland State University's campus safety office.

On Tuesday, July 7, Halliburton was sworn in as PSU's new chief of campus public safety. He replaces interim chief Joe Schilling, who will go back to his role as lieutenant within the office.

Halliburton now will oversee the university's police force, which is made up of eight sworn, armed law enforcement officers and an additional seven unarmed public safety officers who help take reports and keep an eye on campus surroundings. The PSU Campus Public Safety Office is separate from the Portland Police Bureau.

"That was me": Policing during the Black Lives Matter movement

Before accepting the position, Halliburton was considering retiring for good. His faith in law enforcement work had been shaken, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer.

"May 25 changed the world. It changed Portland, Oregon. It changed the United States," he said Tuesday. "After the murder of George Floyd, I contemplated stepping away from law enforcement. It hurt me so bad, because that was me."

Halliburton refers to his shared experience of being profiled and stopped by police. He lives that experience, and his sons do, too.

"As a Black policeman, I have been stopped by the police, off duty," he said. "What the community is experiencing, I have experienced. My sons have experienced that. The only difference is, I put a uniform on every day."

Halliburton said Floyd's death, compounded by other recent high-profile deaths of African Americans by police, has made his job difficult, and complicated the meaning of the badge for some officers. He shares many protesters' concerns over police brutality and says he welcomes the changes happening within many law enforcement organizations.

"All the years of good police work had gone down the drain in eight minutes and 46 seconds," Halliburton said, referring to the amount of time Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck before Floyd died. Chauvin and three other officers have since been arrested. "Those communities that I had given everything I had to, had lost their trust in me."

He prayed, and did some soul searching.

"A week after, I get a call saying, 'Willie, will you be our new chief of police?' What got me going again was my family and friends," he said.

The national spotlight on police brutality and surge in Black Lives Matter protests partly fueled the change in leadership at PSU's Campus Public Safety Office.

"I think PSU, the leadership here, looked at the environment here and said we need to make a change," Halliburton said. "Joe (Schilling) also came to the realization that we need someone to lead us forward."

Schilling plans to retire within the next year, university officials said Tuesday.

Now, Halliburton says he feels "energized" and ready to bring a new approach to campus policing at Portland's urban, downtown university.

"We've known for some time who the next chief of police for Portland State University would be," Kevin Reynolds, vice president of finance and administration at PSU, said Tuesday during Halliburton's swearing-in ceremony. "During this time, he's built relationships and trust across our campus with different communities. He has shown again and again how to de-escalate problems … with dignity and respect."

Reynolds described the incoming campus police chief as "genuine, caring, optimistic, and collaborative."

Rebuilding and moving forward after the death of Jason Washington

The new chief's first priority?

"Gain trust again."

"With what happened in Minnesota, a lot of communities lost trust in the police, not just African American communities, but white communities, too," he said. "My priority is to earn that trust, not just gain it, but earn it."

"My next goal is to make this a safe place," Halliburton said. "Let them know their kids are taken care of when they drop them off."

His emphasis on trust comes amid a continued push to disarm PSU's police force, following the 2018 death of Jason Washington by campus police. On a broader scale, calls to defund police agencies across the United States, including Portland, have also resonated.

Washington was shot and killed by a PSU officer on June 29, 2018 outside a bar near campus, after police responded to an altercation in which Washington was trying to intervene. Video and police accounts from that evening indicate Washington was shot after he picked up a friend's gun that had fallen on the ground during the scuffle.

"That was an incredible, terrible tragedy," he said of Washington's death. "I pray for his family on a daily basis."

The new chief says he's not ready to dismiss those calls for doing away with deadly weapons.

"As a chief of police, I'm willing to sit down and talk. I want to sit down with our community," he said. "They have an interest, they have a stake in this."

Policing is personal

Up until recently, Halliburton had signature dreadlocks, earning him a reputation as Portland's "Rasta cop," he said. Last year, when his wife was going through cancer treatment, he shaved them off in solidarity with her.

His approach to policing is evident by his first career choice, before he signed up for the academy and before that fateful episode of "Cops."

Halliburton said that, while in college, he initially considered becoming a social worker, but changed course when he learned what the average salary was. Instead, he says a professor suggested he look into police work, as a similar profession.

Now, he's an advocate for tapping into more social workers to respond to calls involving mental illness or the homeless.

In addition to his role as top cop, Halliburton also serves a different role on campus, as a mentor to student athletes.

Flanked by PSU administrative leaders, friends and family Tuesday, Halliburton also was joined by the family of Harry Jackson, the cop Halliburton had seen on TV all those years ago who spurred his move to Portland. Halliburton also went on to be featured on the "Cops" show in 2015 before retiring from PPB.


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