A career cop retires: Insights and memories
With the elimination of Southeast Precinct - a cost-cutting measure by the city - Southeast Portland west of S.E. 39th (Chavez) is patrolled by Central Precinct, based downtown. The rest of Southeast Portland east of 39th (Chavez) is watched over by East Precinct, based east of S.E. 82nd. The recent Commander of East Precinct retired last month, and our correspondent David F. Ashton filed the following report about it - including an insightful portrait of the retiree, in his own words….
Instead of giving orders and filling out paperwork, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Bill Walker decided to spend the week of July 11 mostly out of the office, in a patrol car, answering calls for service in the Brentwood-Darlington and Lents areas.
'It'll be the last week of my time with the Bureau,' Walker remarked, as he talked about his 29½ year career coming to an end. 'I want to work the district in a marked patrol car, serving the area where I spent the majority of my career. I want to finish it like I started, wearing the uniform, riding in a marked car.
'My father was a Portland Police Officer, and rose to the rank of Deputy Chief before he retired in 1984. He came back in 1986 as Chief, and served as Chief for about 3½ years before he retired a second time. My mother-in-law worked for the Bureau for 27 years in a non-sworn position. My brother-in-law was a Portland Police Reserve Officer for seven or eight years; my son is 14-year Clark County Sheriff's Deputy, and my son-in-law is a four-year member of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.
'And, of course, I joined the Portland Police Bureau in December of 1981. Yes, one might say our family is deeply involved in law enforcement!
'But, law enforcement technology has changed a lot in 29 years.
'When I was hired, other than 'biker gangs', we didn't have gangs in the City of Portland. There were no Bloods; no Crips. I was hired with a group of officers who came up from California who told us that we were five to ten years behind the times, and the gangs would eventually come up Interstate 5. They were right.
'In 1988 we had the Ray Winston shooting - the first gang-related homicide in the City of Portland. Since then, there's been a huge influx of gang members coming up from California - both African-American and Hispanic gangs.
'Younger kids see older brothers involved in gang life. The gang acts as a family for them. They imitate the behavior of older gang members in terms of behavior and clothing. Instead of focusing on academics in school, they're focusing on gang life. Because gangsters don't attend school, they don't have regular work opportunities, because they're uneducated.
'Pretty soon you have to prove yourself to the gang, and you have to shoot somebody in an opposing 'gang set'. Gangs were involved in drug activity for a long time, but now they have also turned to prostitution. A lot of older gangsters are pimps. That's different from in the past, and it's a huge social dysfunction that we're seeing right now in that community.
'We have had a record number of shootings this year, compared to previous years. That is definitely on the increase.
'When I was hired, cocaine was a drug of choice, and some marijuana. Then they went to methamphetamine, and now its heroin - which is unfortunate. Heroin is highly addictive. You 'shoot up' once, and can be addicted for life. It's so cheap, and so easy to get on the street.'
'The lighter side of this job is being around the men and women - sworn and non-sworn - who work here and do a terrific job every day. The majority of them come to work with a smile on their face; they enjoy being here, going out and working really hard.
'Another bright part is the community itself. It's going out to different public events, like the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, and the monthly Citizens Advisory Council meetings. The interaction is positive, supportive, and it's like we're friends. That's really good.
'And the kids we meet in the community usually don't see the negative side of a policeman. We see little kids smiling at us. You give them a little sticker badge and it's the coolest thing for them; they walk away smiling.'
Walker's three accomplishments
'There were three things I really wanted to accomplish when I joined the Bureau.
'First was to become a member of the Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) - the best job in the Bureau. This is a group dedicated to working harder than anyone else - being physically and mentally prepared to go out and run toward a situation when everyone is running away from the gunfire - like at the KOIN Tower incident, for example. I got to do it for eight years.
'Secondly, I wanted to be a sergeant. The 'street' sergeants are the leaders; the men and women I looked up to. After becoming a sergeant, everything beyond in my career has just been amazing - like rising to the level of Commander.
'The third thing that I wanted is to still be married to the same woman to whom I was married when I started this career. We've been married more than 37 years. There is a high divorce rate across the board, in police work. Although my wife didn't want me to go into law enforcement, she has supported me every day, every step of the way.'
After his retirement, Walker said he plans to do some local travel and keep working with the 'Z-Man Scholarship Foundation' for high school students.
'I've have two grandchildren, and I want to be able to spend as much time with them as I can. And, I do have a Harley Davidson in the garage that needs a lot more miles put on it.'
We asked what Walker would miss the most, when he woke up on the morning of July 16?
The commander paused, and took a deep breath. He looked down and silently struggled to find words to express feelings that appeared to be sad, as tears welled up in his eyes.
'I think I will miss most the opportunity to put this uniform on every day, and head out to serve our community with so many other great people at the Bureau. This job is not 'who I am', but I've really enjoyed it. That is going to be the toughest part.
'On July 15, my last day here, I will have my Harley in the East Precinct parking garage. As I'm leaving work for the last time, I plan to jump on my motorcycle and ride off on my 'steel horse'. That's my plan.'