Gresham police officer Rick Blake knows he has big shoes to fill.
Standing in the middle of a community-led reception in honor of the officers rotating off the Neighborhood Enforcement Team, or NET, it's not hard to see what he means.
Officers Dan Estes and Jim Leake, who were the first two to be assigned to the NET unit, were the center of attention as they are due to rotate to new assignments this year.
"They paved the ground floor for this concept," said Blake, of neighborhood policing within Gresham. "Everyone knows Dan and Jim — they built such a good relationship with everyone."
Community members who have worked with both of them attended the reception to say thanks for all the work they have accomplished throughout the city neighborhoods. There were hugs and handshakes, home-baked treats, shared memories and several rounds of applause.
"We wanted to do something special and thank these officers who have done such a tremendous amount of work," said event organizer Carol Rulla, from the Kelly Creek Neighborhood.
Held Tuesday evening, March 14, at City Hall, the reception was created by the Coalition of Gresham Neighborhood Associations.
"We are so proud of the partnership with NET, and they have done great work," said Betty Dominguez with Home Forward. "We will miss them."
Former Gresham police chief Craig Junginger formed The Neighborhood Enforcement Team in 2014. He wanted to create a proactive neighborhood team to address livability issues and increase community involvement.
"This is Chief Junginger's legacy, and it was very successful," said current Police Chief Robin Sells.
The positions were open to any officers interested in the endeavor, and in Estes and Leake the department found two highly-qualified people to make everything happen.
The right people
Gresham City Council President Kirk French first encountered the NET officers while serving on the finance committee. He had a cup of coffee with Junginger, and brought up the idea of expanding neighborhood police work. Junginger agreed, stressing the importance of finding the right people to lead it, and French left the meeting not realizing what was in the works.
A few weeks later he met Estes and Leake while walking in downtown Gresham, and learned that Junginger found those right people.
"We owe you a heartfelt thanks for the work you have done," French told the officers during the reception.
French shared some of their accomplishments. The two helped clear out many of the abandoned "zombie" houses in the city and made the streets safer for all residents. Leake and Estes also went out of their way to help bring resources to citizens in need, including buying clothing with their own funds.
Both succeed because of their backgrounds and interests.
"We have enjoyed being a part of this," Estes said. "On patrol, you get called out to a place and are only able to put a Band-Aid on things. With NET, we can slow down and look at long-term solutions."
Estes, a patrol officer, has been with the Gresham Police Department for 10 years. Previously he worked with Section 8 housing abuse complaints and assigned as the department's Section 8 liaison.
He had a strong interest in clearing and securing vacant structures to mitigate unauthorized use and crime in neighborhoods. By focusing on these vacant structures, he began building relationships with property and business owners.
"I go home after work feeling like I really accomplished something," Estes said. "I'll miss the relationships, but they aren't going away."
Leake started his law enforcement career in 1996 at the Troutdale Police Department, which has since been absorbed into the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office. In 2002 he was promoted to sergeant, and in 2003 he formed the Troutdale Apartment Managers Association.
He joined the Gresham Police Department as a patrol officer in 2007.
From 2010 to 2013, Leake worked as a detective assigned to the Special Enforcement Team, tasked with facilitating the East County Landlord Forum.
Part of his responsibilities included facilitating two-hour training classes every other month, focused on building relationships with property owners and managers in hopes of lowering police calls for service at some locations.
Leake was designated the Home Forward liaison in 2013, where he meets with Home Forward representatives twice a month to communicate about problem tenants and building locations.
Because of his strong history of working closely with property owners and management companies and proactive work regarding livability issues in East Multnomah County, Leake was assigned to NET.
"We did a good enough job with support from all of you to make this successful," said Leake. "We couldn't have done this by ourselves."
Now new officers will be filling in, with Estes rotating out on March 31 and Leake on Sept. 29.
"It takes the right people to get this off the ground, and those two leaving will create a void," Sells said. "So many people have come up and begged them to stay, this could be the highlight of their careers."
After building successful partnerships with other city of Gresham divisions such as Code Enforcement, Rental Housing, the City Attorney's Office and Home Forward, along with neighborhood and business associations, the team was expanded to include four officers, a sergeant and administrative assistant.
The newest NET members are officers Chris Watkins and Steve Taylor. Sgt. Mike Amend will join the team by April 1, along with Blake, who will replace Estes, who has reached the end of his four-year assignment.
"All officers assigned to NET have shown a strong history of community outreach and proactive policing within the Gresham community," said John Rasmussen, Gresham police information officer. "NET officers are proud that their efforts help Gresham thrive."
During the reception, members of the community flocked around Blake, excited to meet one of the new people serving on the team.
"I am looking forward to continue building relationships with the community," Blake said.
And for all his talk about trying to fill big shoes, Estes has another way of looking at it. He has no doubt the new officers assigned to NET are more than capable.
"Officer Blake is being too humble," Estes said. "He and the others are brigning a lot of experience and talent to the team."