Portland Police Bureau - Southeast Precinct
When the Crown Vic’s V8 engine roared to life the cruiser heaved forward, the red and blue lights parting the busy traffic like Moses splitting the sea. A primordial surge of adrenalin, sparked by 225 horses of power seeping through the floorboards, rushed through my body, triggered my heart, and finally settled into my face. An uncontrollable grin blossomed. I could no more avoid that smile than I could slow the pounding in my chest.
Next to me was a man wearing a dark blue uniform, a baseball cap, and a jacket that said simply “Police” on the back. Around his waist was a crowded duty belt that cradled the tools of his trade; a pad of paper, handcuffs, flashlight, spare ammo, a taser, a baton, and a gun that looked like it meant business. It was reported that a nineteen year old and his buddies were holding a house hostage with rifles. The cruiser was heading straight for it…
As we rushed to the scene, I got to thinking: This was an ordinary human being who did extraordinary things every…single…day. That was his job. His “office” was the streets of Southeast Portland, his co-workers were men and women just like him who stood between people and those that prey on them. His“clients” were local citizens, the homeless, anyone who needed protection. His “competitors” were terrorists, pushers, thieves, killers, and rapists. In two hours on a Tuesday afternoon, I witnessed just how thin the line is between safety and danger…between security and chaos. I watched the unified teamwork of a handful of extraordinary people keep that membrane of protection intact. The thought was a sobering one.
When I called Lt. Steffen for an interview and ride-along with the Southeast Police Precinct in Portland, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Dozens of cop shows flashed through my head and visions of prostitutes hanging out at grubby desks with surly sergeants taking down information were paramount in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Southeast Precinct was a beautiful building with a well designed reception area, including pioneer artwork, tiled floors, and even dazzling high windows. The precinct itself was warm and comfortable with nice offices, friendly, funny people, and a kind of camaraderie rarely seen outside of dangerous occupations. When my husband worked for the fire department, it was the only other time I’d seen this kind of good natured, if sometimes irreverent, banter among people whose lives are on the line…and in each other’s hands…every day. There seems to be a kind of esprit de corps to these groups unlike any other.
I was thrilled to work with Officer Robert Pickett, a seven year vet of the precinct, who was thorough, extremely helpful, and even charming during our interview. He was very patient with me. Let’s face it; when a writer comes in with tons of interview questions, some of them a bit risqué, what would you do? Officer Pickett was a consummate professional from beginning to end. It was hard to embarrass him, but I imagine he’s seen it all.
After a morning of interviewing, we went to the cruiser for the ride along. We talked about procedures, what he wanted to show me, and some of the rules. He then turned serious.
“While we’re out there, it’s possible I may have to leave the car. There might even be trouble. If I leave the car, I want you to undo your seatbelt and open your door, maybe even put one foot out.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, thinking that an open car door would just make it easier for a bad guy to get me.
He said, “We tell recruits that the cruiser is a coffin; if you stay inside you’re dead. If anything happens, I want you to get out of the car and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.” Then he added, “It’s harder to shoot a moving target.”
Okay, that got my attention. Hmmm, maybe I should rethink this…I’m a brave person, right? I raised six kids, didn’t I? I nodded my acknowledgment and did exactly what he told me. After all, this fellow fought bad guys for a living, right?
It turned out the first call was a false alarm; the kids were in the house playing video games (or something) and there weren’t any guns. I breathed a sigh of relief when he got back into the car.
When we left, Officer Pickett wanted to show me a traffic stop and pulled over some poor schmo for a broken brake light. I felt so bad, I wanted to tell the guy how sorry I was. Officer Pickett gave him a warning and sent him on his way. While we were stopped, another officer cruised by just to see how we were. There was that team thing again. It seemed like every minute they all knew where the other officers were, their status, and exactly what to do, without a spoken word.
Honestly, when I’ve been on the streets, moving from event to event like a dutiful ant, I didn’t realize these men and women were there with me, around a corner, down the street, or even in my neighborhood watching my home, or my kids. And what did I do when they got behind me when I was driving? I thought they are trying to catch me doing something wrong. Chances are they were watching the guy in the car beside me who was acting a little hinky. That’s how fine the line is.
Officer Pickett drove down to close-in southeast where he talked to a man who had a warrant out for his arrest. The man was very cooperative and did exactly what he was supposed to; he did not argue, did exactly what Officer Pickett told him to do, and let the other two cops who were there for backup help arrest him. Turned out the poor guy’s brother had used our suspect’s ID and the computer had a warrant out for him instead of his brother. Officer Pickett settled it with a thorough search on the computer, double checking identifying marks and photos, and let the guy go. He validated the young man for his cooperation. Pickett handled it so well, the guy even thanked him.
The day ended with a search for a flasher at a bus stop (we couldn’t find him - rats!) and the arrest of a woman driving a stolen car at a local gas station. The highlight was getting to examine a real police weapon, finding out what it was like to get handcuffed, and going over that wonderful Crown Vic cruiser with a fine toothed comb. Not bad for two hours.
I came away with a lot more than information for my book. I have to tell you that when I arrived, my view of the Portland Police was very different than the one I took away with me at the end of the day. During our brief ride along, I found that, to the officer, the police handled themselves with confidence and professionalism. What struck me most was the cohesion of the team dynamics demonstrated in every situation. Incidents were quickly diffused, expertly handled, and even taken care of with kindness and good humor, in many cases. This says a great deal about the obvious degree of skills these officers possess. Again, ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
I would HIGHLY recommend taking a ride-along to anyone. It will open your eyes and your mind. Who knows? You might even learn something. I know I’ll sleep a little better at night knowing they are out there.
My sincerest thanks to the wonderful men and women of the Portland Police Bureau. You are the people who stand between disaster and the rest of us. It was an honor and privilege to be part of your world for one glorious day.
2008 Releases: Starsight, Vol. I, Starsight, Vol. II, The Centurion & The Queen
The Edge of Honor, A Cup of Comfort for Single Mothers
2009 Releases: A Boy & His Wizard
2010 Releases: Starsight III: The Restless Seed, Starsight Prequel: The God Wars,
A Boy & His Lizard
Other Releases:The Gladiator Prince - TBA, Keenan's Dilemma - TBA