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Tracking dog, assistant chief, veteran officer retire from Tigard Police

Baxter to transition to being a family pet, while Jim de Sully, Danny Gill look to life beyond police work.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Baxter, a 9-year-old German shepherd Tigard K-9 officer, chases after his toy after performing his task as his partner, Officer Cameron Odam, watches.Beginning next month, the Tigard Police Department is going to look a little different.

Three longtime members of the police force are retiring this month, including the assistant chief of police, a longtime school resource officer and Baxter, a police dog who helped re-start the city’s long-stagnant K-9 program.

Collectively, Assistant Chief of Police Jim de Sully, Officer Danny Gill and K-9 officer Baxter represent more than 70 years of police experience. Each have spent all, or nearly all, of their careers in Tigard.

"I’m going to miss the folks here, absolutely,” said de Sully, 50, who spent 26 years in Tigard. “It’s going to be tough to go."

Gill, 62, has spent virtually his entire adult life working for the Tigard Police Department.

“I started at 19 as an intern,” he said.

Gill's career trajectory with the Tigard Police wasn’t a traditional one. He didn't attend the police academy until he was 43, he said. And rather than sticking to one particular beat, Gill focused on a little bit of everything, from investigating commercial crimes and working transit police to serving as Tigard High School’s longtime school resource officer.

“I really like working in the high school,” Gill said. “The teachers, the staff — it's just been a great place to work. I've been in there for nine years total. It's the better half of law enforcement, working with a lot of the kids. … You get to deal with a lot of good people. You get to go in and talk with classes about drugs and alcohol and crime, and that sort of stuff, but you're talking about it, not having to deal with it as much.”

Baxter, a 9-year-old German shepherd, has been working Tigard’s streets for the past eight years.

“(Working with Baxter) is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I've ever had,” said Officer Cameron Odam, Baxter’s partner.

Baxter, who was bred in Slovakia, joined the department in 2008. He was the first K-9 officer purchased by the city after years of letting the program stagnate.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard Police Officer Danny Gill will be retiring from the police department.

A growing community

Tigard has changed a lot over the course of Gill and de Sully's careers, de Sully said.

When I started, “Tigard was a lot different," de Sully said. "Back then, 121st and Walnut was outside of the city. Geographically, City Hall was in the center of the city; now it’s on the far eastern end of the city. It’s changed a lot. When I got here, the population (was) about 25,000 people,” — it's now nearly 51,000.

But while the scope of the job has changed — Tigard had a record four homicides in 2015 — de Sully said that the mission of the police hasn’t changed.

"Even though the town has changed, at the end of the day, the basic concepts of community policing stay the same," de Sully said. "… You work day to day with the people who live there."

Baxter has played a big part in that mission, de Sully said.

A tracking dog, Baxter helps locate people and missing items. But more than that, Odam said, Baxter has served as an “icebreaker.”

“So many people that are not willing to come up to a police officer will still come up and talk to you about your dog,” Odam said. “'Hey, that's a cool dog. Hey, by the way, now that you're a cool guy and I can see you've got this dog, and you're willing to tell me about your dog, I've got this question that I've been dying to ask a police officer, but I just didn't feel like I could approach somebody,'” Odam said.

Jim de Sully.Bridging that gap between residents and the police is a big part of community police work, de Sully said.

"Community policing in a lot of cases means that we should think outside the box to address problems," de Sully said. "It might not be the traditional way where we make an arrest and someone goes to jail,” de Sully said. “It’s about finding ways to change things and break the pattern. That’s what made this job so interesting. We aren’t individuals, we're working as team to say, 'Let’s try this.'"

To do that, Tigard began a first-of-its-kind unit devoted to solving crimes against local businesses, and recently started working with the local homeless population to help them find housing, rather than arresting them for trespassing or vagrancy.

Next steps

De Sully said that although he's retiring from the police force, he won't stop working.

"I’m growing up from playing cops and robbers and I’ll have to go find a real job," he said. "I'm not sure what, yet. It might be something completely for fun."

Instead of promoting a new assistant chief, the department is instead restructuring, with two captains splitting the job between them.

"We’ve worked so hard to develop our people. Now, some younger staff can step into some of these roles and take them on," de Sully said. "I’ve got a lot of confidence of the people that are here. I’m proud of the people we have here. We put an emphasis on people who want to give back. We’ve had a lot of long-term people who have been here for a while."

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Baxter, a 9-year-old German shepherd Tigard K-9 officer, is retiring from the police department.Baxter's retirement will leave the department with just one police dog. Diesel, a 14-month-old German shepherd, started with the department last year after being purchased with money raised by the Rotary Club of Tigard. Baxter will likely be replaced at the department by another police dog next year, Odam said.

Odam will be promoted to sergeant next month, and his duties at the department will change.

He’ll have a new uniform, get to drive a police car that isn't filled with dog hair and odor, and won't have to clean up after his partner anymore. Even still, he said, he is going to miss Baxter as a partner.

“It's bittersweet,” Odam said. “I get to start a new part of my career. I get to start a new chapter that I'm very excited (about), and I'm looking forward to that. But it's going to be different not having that grumbling, whining, stinky dog running around in the back of my car.”

Baxter isn’t going far. Baxter will continue to live with Odam, transitioning from partner to family pet.

“(My kids) can't wait to be able to have him not necessarily be that working dog,” said Odam.

To hear Odam tell it, working with a police dog has been the culmination of his life's dream.

“For me, I can remember third grade, elementary school, watching my local hometown K-9 unit come to do a police demonstration,” he said. “… I was already a dog fanatic. I had dogs growing up. I've always had a dog. And I just thought, ‘What could be better than being a police officer that had a dog that you took with you everywhere?’ And from then on, my whole childhood was all about police cars and dogs and everything I could do to put them together.”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cameron Odam, who will be promoted next month to sergeant with the Tigard Police Department, recalls events while working on the force with retiring Officer Danny Gill.

By Geoff Pursinger
AssociateEditor, Hillsboro Tribune
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