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First female police chief takes reins

Janie Schutz strikes humble note in address to officers, city officials


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Janie Schutz, Forest Groves first female police chief, was sworn in Monday night. Washington County Chief Deputy Bill Steele, who served in the role on an interim basis.In 2010, after three years on the job, the first woman to lead the Hillsboro Police Department retired. At that time, Lila Ashenbrenner was the only female police chief in Washington County.

But on Monday evening, Janie Schutz took the reins in Forest Grove, becoming that city’s first female chief and joining at least two other women in prominent leadership positions in western Washington County: Lesley Hallick is president of Pacific University, and Yvonne Curtis is superintendent of Forest Grove schools.

Schutz, who came from Wadesboro, N.C., where she served as chief, was sworn in as Forest Grove’s seventh chief Monday night. She replaces Kerry Aleshire, who left in June to join the Beaverton Police Department.

In loose, unplanned remarks to those gathered at the event, Schutz told officers to relax.

"I'm a cop's cop. I've been that way my whole life," Schutz said. She wasn't coming to town to make their job harder. Her aim instead is to support the officers in their field work by handling the stuff a chief needs to keep her eye on. Then Schutz, wearing a Forest Grove Police uniform, struck another humble note: she wants to get a marked patrol car. Until then, she's going to be spending time with officers, seeing what their strengths are on the street.

"If I ask to ride with you, don't get nervous," Schutz said with a smile.

‘Have to prove myself’

In a series of email questions and answers with the News-Times last month, Schutz described what it’s been like to rise through the ranks as a career police officer. Arriving in North Carolina in 1994, “the local sheriff’s department initially did not have females on the road,” she said, “and I was told that would not change.”

She declined a chance to work for that office, instead opting for Wadesboro and a police department that accepted female officers. “I knew I would have to prove myself,” noted Schutz.

Prove herself she did. “I am a determined officer,” she said, “and my philosophy is that ‘bad guys’ need to go and the good people in a community need to feel safe.

“Working together in a department that cares makes all the difference.”

In Forest Grove, she anticipates similar cooperation. Though Schutz said she will take the first several weeks of her tenure to learn about the community, she plans on jumping right in to her work.

“I am a very proactive chief,” noted Schutz. “What it all comes down to is that good people deserve to live in peace and feel secure in all they do.”

More creative

In times of tight budgets and declining resources, Schutz said she expects to “be more creative” about problem solving within the Forest Grove Police Department.

“Knowing in advance that we can’t have an officer on every block … will naturally require that people in general take a bigger interest in being the eyes and ears for officers and also be willing to report what they have seen and heard,” she said. “This not only is the most natural response to social problems, but it’s certainly the most cost effective.”

Schutz isn’t naïve about what it takes to be a successful chief in the skin of a female.

“Doing this job and being a woman requires such a balance,” said Schutz, who, with her husband Jeff, has six grown children. “So many times it’s hard to be both the mother and the cop. I think any woman who does this job is most likely doing it because it is a calling.”

Police officers, Schutz noted, “are special women and special men doing very special work.”