Steven Lougal says hiring more police officers is his top priority, as department has multiple vacant positions.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Scappoose Police Chief Steven Lougal stands outside City Hall.Scappoose's new police chief is on the job.

Steven Lougal started as police chief in late May, after spending his entire 25-year law enforcement career in the Bridgeport, Connecticut, police department.

The top priority on Lougal's to-do list? Hiring more officers.

The city has 11 sworn law enforcement positions, with one patrol position expected to be added this summer.

But four of the 11 positions were vacant as of June 13.

Lougal comes to Scappoose from a police department in a city more than eighteen times larger than by population. Bridgeport is more than one-third Black and 42% Hispanic or Latino. Scappoose is 87.7% non-Hispanic white. Scappoose has a poverty rate of 5.1%. In Bridgeport, 23.2% of residents live under the poverty line.

"The problems are the same, really," Lougal said of Scappoose and Bridgeport. "What changes is just the scale of the problems."

He added, "We're all having problems hiring as well — it's not just a West Coast thing or an East Coast (thing), it's nationally."

Lougal said he wasn't specifically looking to move to a smaller department, but he was looking for jobs in the area to be closer to his wife's family in the Tigard area. Tigard is about a 45-minute drive south of Scappoose.

"Recruiting and hiring officers is my number one," Lougal said of his initial priorities.

"Nobody knows me, so what I've been doing the last couple of weeks is just getting out there and making introductions. I've got to start building the relationships so that people know who I am. My name has got to get out there to attract new candidates," for open officer positions, Lougal said.

The department has had massive turnover in the past few years, resulting in a vote of no confidence by the police officers union in then-Chief Norm Miller in 2021.

Only one current officer has more than a few years of experience in the department. COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF SCAPPOOSE - A ceremonial swearing-in was held for Lougal during a city council meeting on June 6, though he was officially sworn in on his first day.

That lack of institutional knowledge is both a challenge and an opportunity, Lougal said, allowing him to shape the department's culture.

"When you go to a bigger department, you have so many opportunities they can offer you. So when you have a smaller (department), you have to find something to attract the officers and keep them engaged," Lougal said, listing a K-9, motorcycles, and prized positions like school resource officer or detective as ways to keep officers engaged.

"I want the guys to have purpose and enjoy coming to work and having something that they can look forward to," he added.

The department will be working on an operational needs analysis, improving transparency of crime data, working with the Columbia 9-1-1 Communication District on plans for a new radio system, community outreach events, and "if possible, the reinstatement of the school resource officer position," City Manager Alexandra Rains wrote in her budget message for the fiscal year starting next month.

"These goals will be overseen by the department's new chief of police, Steven Lougal, who brings a considerable amount of experience and fresh perspective with which to tackle these projects," Rains wrote.

Lougal said his law enforcement philosophy comes down to community policing.

"Every officer is a community police officer. It starts with me, but it's all of us," he said.

That means an emphasis on building relationships.

"Everyone always throws the word 'partnership' out. And partnerships are great. But partnerships aren't going to work unless you actually have a relationship. To me, it's having that relationship, being approachable," Lougal said. "I need to hear from the community. The only way to do that is to get out there and walk around, attend events."

Lougal said he'll be hosting a "Coffee with the Chief" event in a few weeks. He has also met with city leaders and leaders of neighboring law enforcement agencies like the St. Helens Police Department and Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

"It's important that the community gets to know who I am, so that I'm successful," Lougal said. "I can't be successful if I don't have the support of the community or the council."

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