Officer ‘Comic Cop’ bridges gaps in Old Town

In Local by rapsheet

Sgt. Willie Halliburton is known on the stage as a comedian but in downtown Portland he’s known as a cop with a great record for uniting communities

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — On the heels of an unsolved homicide in downtown under the Morrison Bridge that may involve homeless people, police are stepping up efforts to foster better relationships with the homeless and mentally ill.

Sgt. Willie Halliburton is on the front lines of that effort. He’s a dayshift supervisor for Central Precinct. Halliburton has spent much of his career working in other parts of the city. The bureau moved him back to downtown after he had great success in building a bridge between police and the community in New Columbia in North Portland. The area was once a hotbed for gang violence.

“When I came back (to Central Precinct), I was surprised at the number of calls dealing with the mentally ill, transient, homeless and people on drugs,” Halliburton said.

Officers assigned to Central Precinct are now taking more “unconventional police calls,” Halliburton said. The bureau is partnering up with mental health professionals and is increasing training for officers to deal with those in crisis.

“Due to all the mental illness issues that we deal with, we have to be really careful and really understand the scope of someone’s mental illness when dealing with them,” Halliburton said.

As Halliburton nears his 25th year with the bureau, he places a strong emphasis on encouraging his fellow officers to get out of their patrol cars. He said that’s the only way to gain trust in a community and to gain knowledge of what’s going on.

“There are a lot of people in need down here,” Halliburton said recently as KOIN 6 News followed him walking through Old Town/Chinatown. He said officers are working to foster better relationship with younger homeless individuals who are less likely to trust police.

“Each and every person out here has a story,” Halliburton said.

Halliburton’s own story includes a passion he discovered in college. He entered a comedy contest for the first time and realized he had a gift. The college football player, and soon to be cop, had a knack for telling jokes.

He describes using his comedy talents and his role of being a police officer as an agent of change. His ability to connect with people is instrumental.

“I’ve been blessed to have talent not only as a police officer, but also as an entertainer,” Halliburton said.

As Halliburton nears the end of his career, he reflects on the work fellow officers have done to improve relationships in downtown with the community.

“My hat goes off to these officers at Central Precinct,” Halliburton said.

But he’s also looking to the future. When he puts down his badge, he will pick up a microphone and become a full-time comedian.

“Comedy has always been my safe place,” he said.

Hailburton is known on stage as the “Comic Cop,” and performs at Harvey’s Comedy Club. His latest round of performance runs through Sunday.

Halliburton said he uses his humor every day at home and work.

“That’s my goal…to get a smile out of the meanest, baddest person out here.”