New police chief has trotted the globe
Rob Wurpes isn't your run-of-the-mill small town police chief.
He was a soldier in the United States Army when the Berlin Wall fell, is a second generation German-American immigrant, served as an artillery observer during the Gulf War, has visited 26 countries, is a trained Emergency Medical Technician and spent a chunk of his career saving people from drowning.
And he sees his diverse experiences and curiosity as an advantage.
"I'd like to think so," Wurpes said. "I enjoy hearing the perspective and politics of different cultures and different backgrounds."
Wurpes replaced Adam Phillips as Wilsonville's police chief and was introduced at a Wilsonville City Council meeting in October after recently serving as a public information officer for the Clackamas County Sherriff's office and as the police chief for the now unincorporated city of Damascus.
Wurpes is a lieutenant for Clackamas County — which the City of Wilsonville contracts with for law enforcement services.
"I'm really excited to come to Wilsonville. I find it to be a very positive place and people have been very kind and supportive. I've met some true professionals that work here and other areas of city government. My first impressions are excellent. These are good people doing good things in the city. It's forward thinking. They like new ideas," Wurpes said.
Wurpes' most distinct memory from the fall of the Berlin Wall was running into a Russian brigade and realizing they're not so different from his own cohort.
"We're being taught that 'You're the bad guy.' 'No, you're the bad guy.' All that diminishes and you realize we're all just humans making our way through life," he said.
Following his stint in the Army, Wurpes searched for a career that provided the opportunity for vertical and lateral mobility.
And after a ride-along with a neighbor and Clark County deputy, he realized that police work suited him.
"He says 'Hey, you ought to come on a ride-along.' That really piqued my interest. 'Ah, this is a really neat field," Wurpes said.
As police chief, Wurpes hopes to foster community bonds — a quality he deemed valuable while working as a patrol deputy in Portland early in his career. He recalls helping citizens turn on the power to their houses and meeting as many people as possible.
"I thought, 'What a neat way of policing,'" he said.
Wurpes enjoys conversing with Wilsonville residents and hopes to foster a close-knit bond between police department and community.
"Fortunately my predecessors have done quite well at that. I intend to maintain that. A lot of that is going out and about, being seen, and introducing myself. In fact this morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, met two or three people at the shop. I got to know a little bit about where they're from," Wurpes said.
While serving as a public safety diver, Wurpes rescued people from capsized boats and saved people from drowning and other water-related predicaments.
"That was always nice to save a life. I've saved a few. That's a powerful feeling," he said.
He then served as a marine deputy and a patrol sergeant. Eventually, he earned the
role of public information officer for Clackamas County — where he interacted with the media and managed social media accounts, among other tasks.
"You go from the hands-on, technical jobs — your frontline patrolman, your diver. Those are fun, very engaging, fast-paced jobs with a narrow focus. I look fondly upon those times but at some point I'm getting older," he said. "It's one of those necessary things as you go through a career."
But, Wurpes has had his share of eventful experiences in recent years. For one, he was on duty during the Clackamas Town Center shooting in 2012. That day, his EMT training came in handy.
"My primary duty was making things safe, taking care of the threat but also coming to it like, 'While I'm in there I can also use my medical skills.' I had a medical bag with me and checked on folks I came across," he said.
Wurpes says managing traffic is one of his biggest priorities as police chief and says the department's recent purchase of a motorcycle has helped policemen patrol congested
areas more effectively and says they're looking to add another traffic car in the near future.
"It's much more nimble, particularly when there's a lot more congestion. That started just prior to my arrival. I can't take credit for it but I'm seeing the longer term effects of that. It's been really positive," he said.
Along with traffic, Wurpes says the easy access to the freeway and blend of residential and industrial properties in Wilsonville present unique challenges. The city's population is also growing.
"If you bring more people traffic's an issue, sometimes crime will go up. The freeway does give access for people to do bad things and take off. We're aware of that so we keep our eyes out for suspicious activity," he said.
He also says reaching out to minority populations is important and that his experience in the army helps him relate to fellow veterans.
"Whether it's the Latino community or African Americans or Russians, I like reaching out and seeing what we can do to improve our relationship," he said.
In Wurpes' view, the police and community must forge a symbiotic relationship in order to maximize livability and minimize crime.
"Just responding to emergency calls is not effective. Unless we're really part of the community and involved with the community we can't solve problems. We require the eyes and the ears of the public to tell us what the problem is, where the problem is, what time of day did it occur, who was involved," he said.