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New officer joins new department


Cornelius police leave 'terrible time' behind

by: COURTESY PHOTO - New Cornelius officer Matt Harris, 30, is a Portland native and is married with two children.When new Cornelius police officer Matt Harris joins the squad Saturday, Oct. 26, he’ll be entering a department that’s dramatically different from a year ago.

After a year of heightened tensions and seemingly endless media attention, Cornelius police officers are trying to move on as the one-year anniversary of their internal eruption passes.

“We went through a terrible time since the big disclosure,” said Police Chief Ken Summers, referring to a letter in which four Cornelius officers accused fellow officers of untruthfulness and corruption. “But we feel like a different department now.”

Harris will be officer number 13 in the resource-strapped department.

After seven years with the City of Tillamook Police Department and Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office, Harris is coming on board just as investigations into the allegations wrap up, and as communication, optimism and efficiency replace tension, confusion and frustration.

Now, officers get together for off-the-clock chats about conflicts and potential improvements, pumpkins are taped to officers’ doors for festivity, and “not a birthday goes by unnoticed here,” said Chief Summers, who arrived in Cornelius last fall, at the peak of the tension.

“I didn’t know these people a year ago. I didn’t know if they were guilty, but I really believe in them today.” he said. “With all the struggles this organization and the city have gone through, we’re not bowed — we’re united. We’re not defeated. We’re going to come through it all.”

New leadership has not only kept department morale from sinking, but is steering it into smoother waters with a “renewed sense of optimism,” according to Summers.

“We have appreciated Ken Summers’ positive leadership style since he arrived at the department, and I feel confident that the officers in our department do also,” said City Manager Rob Drake.

The last year has brought changes big and small — among them hiring the new chief and reorganizing a once-in-shambles evidence room while officers weathered the barrage of investigations into their colleagues.

A new staffing schedule is designed to give officers more patrol time, cut down on overtime expenses, and make for better rested officers, Summers said.

The police staff has been split into teams with a lieutenant, sergeant and three officers on duty throughout the day, overlapping as they come on and off. Instead of working eight hours a day five days a week, officers work 10.5 hours a day, followed by four days off instead of two.

The new system is much more efficient, Summers said.

Under previous Chief Paul Rubenstein, Lieutenant Joe Noffsinger handled almost all of the administrative work, Summers said. But with Bruce Schmid’s recent promotion to lieutenant and Summers focusing his attention on office work, patrol officers, sergeants and lieutenants can spend the majority of their time on the streets.by: COURTESY PHOTOS - Cornelius officers will sport a new badge representative of their committment to the city and its citizens even after a rough year.

The splitting of administrative duties means “we can be more accountable to the citizens,” Summers said. “Now we can shift our focus to where it should’ve been all along — patrol.”

Officers are also required to fill out log entries at the end of their shifts, detailing their activities to catch up other officers and keep the internal lines of communication flowing.

Summers said the department is keeping better records — “how many times did you use your taser or draw your weapon? Were officers disciplined for certain things? What were the results of investigations into officers’ actions? If you asked us a year ago, we would have had no clue,” Summers said. “We need to be held accountable for mistakes.”

It’s important to department personnel that the public be aware of the revamping efforts.

A new logo patch and patrol car design is “an outward manifestation of an inward change,” Summers said.

Officer Miguel Monico designed the new patch to be more representative of the transformed department. ‘Cornelius’ is written boldly and “proudly” at the top of the patch, Monico explains in a written statement. Black and silver represent the tradition of those who fought with armor and sabers to protect their communities, and blue is symbolic of honor and privilege.

“Despite the difficulties of being a small agency with the highest amount of person and property crimes per capita in our region, we continue to strive to honorably and effectively serve and protect our community,” Monico wrote in an email.

But perhaps most telling of the new department attitude is the ‘Invictus’ that scrolls along the center’s bottom — the Latin term meaning “unconquered in difficulties.”

The police cars will get a similar makeover with bolder police markings on vehicle sides — something that says, there may be crime and gangs, but “we’re here too,” Summers said. “We want to display to the world — ‘we’re different.’”

Other Cornelius Police Department Changes:

n Collectively in the last year, Cornelius officers have earned 12 new certifications -- something that used to be way below average within the department, according to Chief Ken Summers. “They have a lot of pride,” he said. “They just needed the opportunity.”

n The department has cut its budget by 10 percent by joining forces with the Cornelius public works department for their fleet mechanical work. They used to pay a local dealership $120 an hour. Now they’re spending about $40 an hour with the city’s mechanics.

n Lieutenants are responsible for following up on any citizen complaints, a new priority of the department.

n The department staff is recruiting volunteers who will be trained to call crime victims just to check in.

n Officer and sergeant offices have been moved closer together in a continuing effort to increase communication.

n The department is part of Volunteers in Police Service, which draws volunteers from the community to support the department. Volunteers can assist the officers in specific situations such as directing traffic.

n Pending background checks, the department will welcome two reserve officers, who attend an abbreviated police academy. As volunteers, reserves can patrol with officers and even take statements, but cannot act solo. They must work about 20 hours a month.

n The Community Oriented Policing Citizen Advisory Board (COPCAB) has become more involved over the past year, working closer with the department to advise officers about community issues. Currently, there are two openings on the board, and they’d love to see some Latino members, Summers said. Call