Jorgensen prepares to take the reins at Lake Oswego Police Department
One month from now, Lake Oswego Police Capt. Dale Jorgensen will become the LOPD's new chief, taking over for retiring Chief Don Johnson on July 1.
Jorgensen, who has served in a role equivalent to that of assistant chief at the department since 2009, says he plans to continue in the direction set by his predecessor. But there are new initiatives on the horizon, too, including the appointment of an Adult Resource Officer trained to help with mental health crises.
Jorgensen also says the LOPD will continue to partner with the Lake Oswego School District and other leaders to promote equity, inclusion and diversity and find better ways to respond to instances of racism and hate speech throughout the city.
"That's one of the things that will evolve over time," Jorgensen says. "That's one of the priorities we're looking at."
Jorgensen says he's had a lifelong interest in police service, although it's actually his second career. Several members of his family were in law enforcement, and he says he was particularly inspired by ride-alongs with his brother-in-law while he was growing up in Utah — especially the way his brother-in-law seemed to know everyone in town.
"They didn't call it community policing back then — not that I remember, anyway — but that's what it was," he says, "and I was interested in that."
Jorgensen started working part-time for a regional sporting goods company during high school and wasn't old enough to become a police officer straight after graduating, so he continued full-time with the retail company and quickly found himself advancing to the management level.
"It's not that I lost interest in being a police officer," he says. "It's just that this other opportunity opened up."
The company tranferred Jorgensen to Oregon in 1990, but it went out of business in 1992. He lived in Aloha and worked as the manager of a drugstore for five years, but he also became friends with an LOPD officer named Jerry Douglas — and rediscovered his interest in police work.
"After about two ride-alongs with Jerry," he says, "I realized that's what I wanted to do."
At Douglas' urging, Jorgensen applied for an open position at the LOPD in 1995. A hiring freeze put his application on hold for a year, but he was eventually hired as a patrol officer in 1997. He's been with the LOPD ever since, with promotions to sergeant in 2003, detective lieutenant in 2006 and captain in 2009 — and he says he's never regretted his decision to change careers.
"I wasn't looking to leave (retail)," Jorgensen says, "but the (police) industry had always been in my blood, so to speak."
Joregensen says his customer service background made for an easy transition to police work because it matches the department's "No Call Too Small" philosophy. That idea was emphasized during his training, he says, and it's remained a constant in his 20 years at the LOPD.
Two of the department's other core objectives have stuck with him as well, he says: Always be the most reasonable person in the room, and respect everyone involved during police interactions.
Jorgensen says he's seen his share of major calls during his time with the LOPD, but it's the smaller cases — including saving families of ducks and tracking down escaped llamas — that stand out to him as the areas where he and his fellow officers have really been able to live the department's community policing philosophy.
The department has been slow to adopt modern features such as online incident reporting, he says, not to try to deter reporting but because of a deep belief in the value of interacting with residents face-to-face. That means being involved in city events and activities, he says, as well as responding in person to all calls.
"When you shortcut that opportunity (to connect with the community), that's when walls start being built between the community and the police," Jorgensen says.
Johnson's seven-year tenure as police chief has included a host of new policies aimed at improving the ability of both police officers and the public to respond to emergencies. When Johnson came on board, for example, there were Automated Emergency Defibrillator units in four of the department's squad cars — and that was considered progressive at the time, Jorgensen says.
But one of Johnson's first goals was to get an AED installed in every LOPD car, and he worked with other departments to implement the same standard throughout Clackamas County. That was followed by the addition of the anti-opioid-overdose medication Naloxone to police cars, and a "teach CPR anywhere" philosophy that saw Lake Oswego police and fire department officials travelling all over the city and county to educate residents about hands-only CPR.
"We're going to continue in that direction," Jorgensen says.
The next major project in the pipeline is the addition of an Adult Resource Officer (ARO), who will have specialized training to assist individuals undergoing mental health crises. Part of the officer's role, Jorgensen says, will be to close an existing gap in services for individuals who attempt suicide or are victims of a drug overdose.
In both cases, police will intervene and rush the victim to the hospital as they do now, he says. But survivors will not simply be returned to the same situation they were in before. Instead, the ARO will partner with staff from the Clackamas County behavioral health unit to reach out to victims after they're discharged and make sure they're connected with the resources they need to move toward recovery.
"We're going to kind of play the role of the middle person," he says. "We view that as maybe not a traditional law enforcement role, but that's community policing."
A big part of the ARO's overall job will be public outreach and education, Jorgensen says. The officer will also be trained to help certain other groups, such as elderly residents who tend to be more frequent targets for scams, identity theft and other fraud crimes.
Responding to racism
Jorgensen says the LOPD will continue to push for greater diversity and inclusion as it has in recent years, although he says it's an approach that's really being pursued by every branch of city government.
Jorgensen was among a group of LOPD officers, city staffers and school district officials who recently traveled to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles for a two-day workshop on issues such as confronting racism and recognizing unconscious biases. The department also recently announced a partnership with the Lake Oswego School District to hold quarterly meetings about issues of race and diversity and discuss ways to respond to instances of racism and hate speech.
Simply having a conversation won't solve issues of racism and bias on its own, Jorgensen says, but it's a crucial first step. And he adds that it's critical for city, school and police leaders to be involved in keeping the conversation going.
"If leaders of organizations don't talk about things, then those things don't get talked about at all," he says. "You've got to keep having the conversation — it can't just happen once a year."
Leading by example is the only way to communicate the priorities and set the expectations for all of the department's staff, he says, and to make sure that it becomes part of the culture of the department and the city. It's the same approach Jorgensen says his own superiors took when it came to training his generation of officers on community policing concepts like "No Call Too Small" and reasonability — concepts that remain important when addressing challenges like racism, he says.
"It's not reasonable for you to be intolerant or bigoted," he says.
Jorgensen and Johnson are approximately halfway through a two-month transition process that began when City Manager Scott Lazenby announced that he had selected Jorgensen as the next police chief. Jorgensen says it's been a smooth process so far, and says Johnson has been "a fantastic mentor."
"From very early on, Chief Johnson's vision for the department was very easy to see," he says, "and that was a vision we shared."
There will be some upcoming challenges, he says, such as hiring a new police captain, which will likely have a ripple effect on some of the department's other leadership roles. And the LOPD is also preparing for a major relocation to a new police station — the final plans are currently being developed by the City Council.
But in terms of his approach to the department's operations and its community policing strategy, Jorgensen says he plans to keep things consistent with the direction set by Johnson.
"People aren't going to notice a big change in philosophy or anything else like that," he says.