Eight weeks with Clackamas Police

Last month I completed an eight week Citizen’s Academy course with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The roughly two dozen of us who took the class (one night a week) were treated to a complete and comprehensive overview of one of Oregon’s largest police departments (annual budget = $53.2 million) where 107 deputies must protect and serve a population of 211,930.

Massive district

Because Clackamas County is so large (1,700 square miles) and the terrain and population density so varied (from Mt. Hood to Wilsonville), the department had many interesting units/divisions for us to learn about: Marine (Patrolling the Willamette River), K-9, Search & Rescue, County Jail, CSI, Bomb Squat, S.W.A.T, and more.

We met most of the key personnel and learned about various aspects of the department including budget issues, domestic violence and child abuse cases, narcotics, how they run the county jail, crime rates, professional standards, peer support and counseling, and hiring and screening procedures.

Guns blazing

We also got many hands-on demonstrations and tours including firing weapons on the firing range, driving the department’s new Dodge Chargers through an obstacle course, and riding with the Marine Division on the Willamette River.

Bruno the police dog

I spent one evening from 9 PM to 7 AM riding along with Deputy Don Boone and his K-9 Malinois “Bruno.” Near midnight, we rushed out to Sandy to help the local police find a suspect who had bolted after a routine traffic stop. After 20 minutes, Deputy Boone found the suspect hiding near a house. Bruno did not get to bite him, so I volunteered to put on the “bite suit” and let the dog attack me. He seemed to enjoy himself. Must have been a Democrat. Come to think of it, he was European.

It turns out Bruno took a wanted felon off the streets that night. Interestingly, the suspect was the same man who car-jacked Oregon State Senator Rick Metsger’s wife several years ago. The rest of the night was quite uneventful. We had Mexican food at 3 AM and I was fighting off the sandman by 5 AM.

It was clear to me that Sheriff Craig Roberts’ deputies are extremely professional individuals who love their work. Police officers are entrusted with a great deal of power over other people. Like anyone with power they must be vigilant about monitoring their department for abuse. My sense was that CCSO takes this responsibility seriously. They even put up with my sense of humor. And, no, I’m not any less obnoxious when I’m around people with loaded guns.

The residents of Clackamas County are well served by the men and women who guard their safety. As a crime reporter in Central Washington I worked with many fine individuals in the Yakima Police Department and with the State Patrol. It has been my experience that police officers are underappreciated for the stressful work they do.

Now its your turn

And even though they didn’t let me shoot anyone (I did ask), the Citizen’s Academy was an excellent experience. Many of your local police departments offer similar programs. I urge you to sign up.

———— POSTSCRIPT: Police & PERS —————

I have written in the past about the scandalous cost of Oregon’s public employee retirement system. The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office budget is as much a victim as any other agency in Oregon.

CCSO PERS costs currently run between 19.78% and 24.90% of payroll (depending on the classification of the employee). As I’ve discussed before, the private sector spends less than 10% of payroll on retirement benefits.

From the budget figures CCSO kindly supplied, I estimate their PERS obligations in excess of 10% amounted to somewhere between $3.1 million and $3.6 million during the last 12 months. That is money not available to hire additional deputies, upgrade equipment, or increase training.

Sadly, this exercise can be repeated throughout Oregon’s cities, counties and state agencies.

Those extra PERS dollars = unrepaired roads, higher K-12 class sizes, higher college tuition costs, fewer police officers, and on and on and on…

(This article is one of many that are featured in the regular email magazine called the Wingard Report. To subscribe or learn more conatct Matt Wingard at [email protected])