Bridging the Divide

In Local, National, President's Message by rapsheet

What is it that police associations can do to reconnect with citizens and communities

By Daryl Turner 

As the national discussion over law enforcement has grown constant and at times divisive, we noticed a huge void in the discussion – the voices of the men and women of law enforcement.

Law enforcement officers don’t just work to protect and serve our communities, we also live and raise our families in those communities.

We coach little league. We shop at the same grocery stores and pick up our kids from the local schools. We’re just like everybody else – we’re black and white, Hispanic and Asian, women and men, gay and straight.

The livability and safety of these communities matters to us because it’s where we’re buying our homes and raising our families.

We formed the Oregon Coalition of Police & Sheriffs (known as ORCOPS) in January to develop a greater bond between the communities where we live and serve, and the officers who put their lives on the line every day.

ORCOPS advocates on behalf of over 2,500 individuals in Oregon law enforcement agencies, making it one of the largest organizations of its kind. The organization is non-partisan and serves as a source of leadership within the law enforcement community.

ORCOPS is comprised of the members of the Portland Police Association, Multnomah County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Clackamas County Peace Officers’ Association, Washington County Police Officers Association, Troutdale Police Officers Association, and Oregon State Police Officers Association. The coalition is open to any Oregon law enforcement officer association.

We formed the coalition because there was a need for a unified law enforcement voice speaking about legislative affairs and community engagement. Since ORCOPS formed, we’ve had great success working with elected officials on legislative issues. Our focus is not just on narrow law enforcement issues such as profiling or body worn cameras.

We’ve also provided public support on broader legislative issues like expanding mental health services, providing resources for homeless youth, and facilitating cleanup and development of unused urban lots. This approach helps legislators and other stakeholders view ORCOPS in a broader context, which significantly changes the dynamic when we advocate directly for our members.

By sharing the day-to-day stories of officers with lawmakers, we shed light on the experiences and perspective of our members. Our communications effort is built on an online presence that allows us to directly share with the public in ways that increase understanding and trust. We told the story of Officer Nick Bohrer, who after recovering from cancer decided to become a “cancer buddy” at a local children’s cancer hospital.

Officer Bohrer goes to doctor visits and chemotherapy appointments, helping his “buddy” by simply being there for him as he goes through the process. He’s even helping out the family with a fundraiser to offset some of their medical expenses. It’s that kind of commitment to community that helps build trust between officers and the public.

We told the story of Officer Parik Singh, who received the Medal of Valor and Police Star after being shot in the line of duty in 2011.

One day, after returning to work, Officer Singh encountered a polite, funny man walking barefoot near the courthouse. Realizing that the man was homeless and cold, Officer Singh gave the socks and boots off his own feet to the man.

That simple act captured the kindness and generosity of our members that often goes unnoticed. We’ve also told numerous stories about officers who have faced dangerous circumstances with inspiring amounts of courage and calm resolve.

By directly engaging with the community, we’re showing our legislators and our neighbors who we are. By engaging with the communities we serve, we’re building understanding. And from that comes trust.

We believe that by telling our members’ stories, our communities will develop a greater understanding of the work we do, our commitment to serve and the sacrifices we make.

Understanding our communities’ needs and building strong relationships with the people we serve are key to good police work. In the end, telling our stories is one more way to build community.

Daryl Turner is the president of the Portland Police Association and the Oregon Coalition of Police & Sheriffs.

Reprinted with permission from American Police Beat.