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'Relationships are at the core of everything we do'

On the eve of National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, Police Chief Don Johnson reflects on the 'no call too small' attitude that makes Lake Oswego different


JOHNSONPolice departments across the country are partnering with the nonprofit FBI National Academy Associates this week to promote the first National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

The goal of the Jan. 9 event is to counteract some of the negative publicity surrounding recent grand jury decisions not to prosecute officers involved in police shootings. Those shootings have prompted “hands up, don’t shoot” protests from coast to coast, including a demonstration Saturday that disrupted Sen. Ron Wyden’s Town Hall at Portland Community College.

Organizers say this week’s Appreciation Day is not designed to defend the actions of police officers in those incidents. Instead, the agencies hope to show that the 780,000 law enforcement officers who put on a badge every day play an integral role in society and that they go to work knowing that they may have to make life-or-death decisions at a moment’s notice.

Just this week, statistics released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund showed that 126 officers died in the line of duty in 2014. That’s a 56-percent increase over 2013.

“Yet they go to work anyway,” the Appreciation Day organizers say. “Being a law enforcement officer is not just a job, it is a calling.  The pay is low, the hours can be terrible, and there is sometimes little appreciation for what they do. Yet, they do it anyway.”

No official Appreciation Day events are planned this week in Lake Oswego, but The Review asked Police Chief Don Johnson to use the occasion as a chance to reflect on what it means to be a police officer in a town where there’s “no call too small” — and what the LOPD does to nurture its relationship with the citizens it serves.

Here’s what Johnson had to say:

Given some of the recent events in places like New York City and Ferguson, Mo., it’s probably not an overstatement to say that the relationship between police and citizens has grown more tense across the country. Some of the issues that played a part in those cases — race, poverty, etc. — don’t play as much of a role here. But do you still feel the increased tension?

While we have all been witness to the events across the country, I think the citizens of Lake Oswego recognize that their police department is doing its very best to meet this community’s needs. Over the past few months, I’ve had many community members connect with me to thank our officers and staff for doing a difficult job in what could otherwise be trying times. I know our officers appreciate this type of encouragement — it lets them know this community is behind them in their efforts to maintain a safe community.

Much is made of the slogan “no call too small,” but the truth is that police work is inherently dangerous, even in Lake Oswego. Can you talk a little bit about the day-to-day reality of being a police officer?

This tag line precedes my time as chief, but I found out early on that it’s not just a slogan, it’s an attitude — an expectation — that our officers really value.  The men and women providing service in our community recognize that with each encounter, they have a chance to solve a problem or to make things better for the person calling. That’s why they go the extra mile in every endeavor to make a positive difference. I think we will hang on to the slogan. it really helps make sure we stay a cut above in the delivery of police services.

I’d love to tell you that day-to-day police work is mundane in Lake Oswego, but it’s not. Sure, there are times when calls for service are slow and plenty of the “no call too small” events are happening, but as I look back over the past few years, there have been some really dangerous situations our officers were called to: the Clackamas Town Center shooting,  two homicides in unincorporated county areas where the suspect was still near the scene, incidents of domestic violence, horrific car crashes during nasty weather, suicidal persons with weapons, the murder of Officer Robert Libke in Oregon City.

Responses to these calls require the officers to be hyper-vigilant and to make split-second decisions as the scene is still unfolding.  My hope is for every officer to go home at the end of their shift to friends and family, without injury. It is an inherently dangerous job, and I think our cops do it well.

There were no murders in Lake Oswego last year and, compared to other cities, only a handful of violent crimes. So in terms of crime, what are some of the biggest issues facing the city? What kinds of crime are most prevalent here?

We are seeing more and more tech fraud cases — stolen identity, credit card fraud, those types of crimes. A lot of detective work goes into these investigations, and the cops have to understand all the latest trends and technologies that crooks are using to get to an arrest.

We’ve had a few significant fraud cases in the last few months that resulted in the recovery of thousands of dollars in credit and the arrest of multiple suspects, so here is the prevention message: Keep your wallets and purses with you, not in your car or exposed in a grocery cart.  And manage your online transactions via secure websites. The crooks are getting smarter and smarter, but usually not smart enough to get caught.

I think our officers would tell you they are still seeing an abundance of drug and alcohol violations, from drunk or drugged drivers to persons addicted to prescription drugs, heroin or methamphetamine. The problem persists.

Photo Credit: REVIEW FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - LOPD K-9 Officer Charger welcomes 14-month-old Dylan Ottaway to a Public Safety Fair in Westlake Park in August. Its just one of the ways the department nurtures its relationship with Lake Oswegans.In some ways, “no call too small” is more than a slogan — it’s an attitude about the role police play in this community and the relationship they have with the public. Can you give some specific examples of how the department nurtures that relationship?

We are really focusing our efforts on our relationship with the schools. We try to have friendly interactions on every campus. We’ve got really great kids in this community, and we want to do our best to support their success, so we’ve partnered with parents to encourage the officers to stop in during break times and lunch — lots of times, they take their lunch break in school cafeterias.

Another program I’m particularly proud of is our “business drop-ins.” Over the past year, our officers have logged more than 1,500 visits to individual business all over the city. It’s usually just a quick visit, but it often turns into a question-and-answer session with owners and employees. It’s really helped us to see the range of business activity in Lake Oswego and helps us better see what is important to the business community.  We’ve also jumped in to support the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Oswego Business Alliance, helping with everything from crime prevention training to special events. We really recognize that we can be part of a thriving business community in Lake Oswego.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the relationships the officers develop during the course of their duty. Think back a few issues to the Education page of The Review that featured a photograph of Officer Keith Wilson riding in the Lake Oswego High homecoming parade with Katie Brauti; that’s a friendship that started when Officer Wilson responded to a vehicle collision that could have taken the lives of some of our students. These types of relationships are at the core of everything we do. I know it’s important, our officers know it’s important, and our community knows that’s what we are about. I think this is exactly why our community calls and writes to thank us for what we do.

Are there any new programs or initiatives planned for 2015?

We are rolling out a lot of technology this next year that will help us be more efficient. We are now partners in a regional case-management system that ties more than 50 police departments together to share data and reports. This is especially helpful because criminals are typically on the move, and we will be able to more quickly spot trends and solve crimes by sharing investigative efforts.

We are also partnering with all of the law enforcement agencies in Washington and Clackamas counties to share a common Computer Aided Dispatch System. Our standalone system would have cost more than $2 million to replace, but we “bought in” for just over $600,000. The real upside for this is that we will be able to connect car to car with most agencies in the metro area and can share resources, depending on who might be closer to a call. In many instances, this can make a huge difference in the outcome of the response, especially when a crime is in progress or medical attention is needed.

And starting this year, our officers will be carrying Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. If we come onto the scene of an overdose, we will be able to bring the patient out of the overdose in a matter of seconds. It’s amazing how well this drug works to save lives. We are the first police department in the state to be authorized, and we really think it can be the difference between life and death.

Contact Gary M. Stein at 503-636-1281 ext. 102 or gstein@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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