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Leaving the beat

Sgt. Rick Senger retires after 25 years in a uniform
by: Jim Hart, 
Sgt. Rick Senger wears civilian (retirement) clothes while standing alongside the on-duty sergeant’s vehicle at the West Linn Police Department.

One of the drawbacks to life as a law enforcement officer is that some people are not cooperative when it is necessary to take them into custody.

Sgt. Rick Senger, a 25-year veteran of the police force, has recently entered medical retirement because some of his body parts have been wrenched in the process of taking some large men into jail.

Resisting arrest takes its toll.

'I have medical issues with my back and my knees and my shoulders,' he said. 'I was told that I could no longer do the job. And that crushed me.'

But today's cops have been taught some advanced techniques designed to prevent some of the injuries that Senger and other officers have suffered over the years.

Senger has been interested in public service for most of his life. He came to the police department when he was still in high school (1971) and began working with police as an Explorer (cadet).

After high school and a stint with the Coast Guard, Senger was determined to get into either firefighting or law enforcement. When California firefighters flooded the market around 1980, Senger decided, instead, to try for a job in law enforcement, beginning in 1981 as a reserve officer. By 1983, he was permanently on the force.

Senger, who has many family members and friends in West Linn, says he was definitely cut out to be an officer, and he loved his career - which spanned the services of four police chiefs in West Linn.

'I like the excitement and the physical energy it takes,' Senger said. 'Plus, you have to be able to talk people out of all types of situations - such as jumping off a bridge or a family fight or a hostage situation - and you still have to be there to counsel families.'

Over his career, there are few incidents that haunt him. In mental flashbacks, however, he sees images - engraved in his brain -of kids and teen-agers suffering injuries.

During his time in the Coast Guard, he served at a medical facility on an Alaskan island. While he was there, the native Canadian Indians brought to the medical facility a 15-year-old child who had been in a car crash. They were told that there were more victims.

'There were nine victims (all teens),' Senger said, 'and four of them were dead before they ever got to us. I remember doing CPR on one kid in the helicopter all the way to the mainland hospital; however, before he got to the hospital he passed away.'

But law enforcement isn't all exciting. One of the saddest and emotionally draining things that an officer has to do, Senger said, is investigate a baby's death.

At the hands of its parents.

'Having kids and grandkids of my own,' he said, 'I just can't see how anybody could treat a baby the way some are treated.'

He also has found it emotionally draining to investigate car crashes with injuries. Police officers are most often first on the scene of crashes.

'All you can do is bandage them and send them off in an ambulance and hope they're going to be OK,' he said. 'It just tears me apart when there's little kids injured.'

Police officers, Senger says, receive extensive medical training, including first aid and CPR every year.

'Our first priority is the people,' he said. 'It's not to direct traffic. It's to take care of the people until people with more medical skills and equipment arrive.

'You may have arrested a guy the day before, but today you're trying to save his life.'

Over the years, Senger has noticed a trend toward a specific type of domestic dispute. In the early days (25 years ago), he was responding to domestics between husband and wife. But nowadays there are many domestics between a parent and an out-of-control child.

'Kids (used to have) respect for parents and law enforcement,' Senger said. 'That was the way they were brought up, but the kids nowadays are different. We go to 9-1-1 calls about 6-year-old children out of control, and (parents) want us to come and take them away.'

Too many parents today, Senger said, expect police to discipline and watch over their children. Parenting skills are likely missing, and some of those parents just want to be friends with their kids.

'There's a big difference,' he said, 'in being a friend or in being a parent.'

Now, in retirement, Senger is going to heal his body first through physical therapy and whatever else his doctors prescribe.

Then he'll begin looking for fun things to do - minus the stress.

'I just want to find a nice job that I can enjoy and have fun,' he said. 'I don't need another high-stress job.'