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Scappoose police ditch formality for better policing

Department launches new uniforms, IDs and big push for community outreach

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Scappoose Police Sgt. Dennis Viereck and Officer Matt Dorick respond to the scene of a crash Wednesday afternoon in Scappoose. The officers now wear lighter uniforms and use their first names to identify themselves, in an effort to connect better with the community they patrol. When Scappoose Police Sgt. Dennis Viereck and Officer Matt Dorick arrive on the scene of a rear-end crash in Scappoose, they’re sporting new uniforms. Their breathable polo shirts and cargo pants have a sportier, more casual feel than the traditional polyester blues officers are used to.

Their shirts bear only their first names and they arrive in Dodge Chargers emblazoned with “Community” “Compassion.”

The changes in representation are some of many the department has undergone over the past two years.

“I want people to be able to talk to us about anything,” Scappoose Police Chief Norm Miller says. “My philosophy is that we should be part of the community, not just because you call 911 and you talk to a cop. You should be able to talk to a cop anytime.”

He’s made a conscious effort to give officers “a less militaristic” look, and have them use first names, to achieve a more neighborly approach to policing.

The department has also launched a slew of community outreach events. In addition to its annual school supply donation drive for local students, the 10-person force has held Pop With a Cop events and, upon the recommendation of Dorick, will soon partner with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to host its first ever Cast With a Cop fishing trip excursion this fall for underprivileged youth in a Department of Human Services program.

That’s the same month as a suicide prevention walk the officers will take part in, but not before they join with firefighters to host National Night Out in Heritage Park next Tuesday.

The free event offers food, displays, CPR and bike safety evaluations and a Dunk-a-Cop tank.

Miller says he also asks his staff to introduce themselves to the community they work in.

“What I task the officers to do is walk into a business and greet the first employee they see, and introduce them-

selves and walk out,” Miller explains.

The heightened community interaction comes at a time of national clashes between police and the public, primarily due to several police shootings of black men. But Miller says the changes have been implemented over the past two years, since he was named chief, long before a national cry for a change in policing.

The officers were quick to get on board and even propose some of their own ideas.

Viereck says the deformalization makes the force “a little more down to Earth.”

“Most of the time, we’re dealing with people who need our help,” Viereck says, before throwing his partner, Dorick, a Scappoose PD ball cap to cover what he considers a bad hair day for Dorick.

In addition to outreach events, there are plans to install a new camera system behind the station, aimed at a parking lot that will offer video recording as a safe exchange point.

The goal is to offer a surveilled area for residents to meet to exchange goods or money from online classified ad purchases, or for some parents, to drop off children in shared custody situations.

Surveillance footage will be kept on hand for about a month, according to officers.

Not all formality has been lost on the force. Officers can still opt to wear the traditional uniforms if they choose, and wouldn’t hesitate to give their last names, if asked.

Earlier this month, the department was given spending authorization from the Scappoose City Council to purchase new TASER brand stun guns to replace outdated weapons the officers use now.

Miller hopes the recent efforts toward neighborly community policing will be his station’s greatest weapon.

“I grew up in this community so I know it,” he says. “We have a lot of great people and I think we try and make sure we can give back a little bit to ease drawing the line between us and them. It’s a hard breach for some people to get over. I understand. Some people aren’t going to like us because we have to enforce the law and take people to jail, but not all people are bad.”