All-American

Fireworks over Willamette River, behind the Ellsworth Bridge, in Albany, OR

I’m going to date myself a little here, lol.

Way on back, around 1989, I was a college student…first at San Bernardino Community College and then at Linn-Benton Community College, upon moving myself and my two-year-old son back up here to my hometown.

I originally started my college career as a Biological Sciences major. I loved science (and still do). Something had happened to my hometown though.When I returned to Albany, after several years in Southern California and Nevada, I returned to a little town that was smack dab in the middle of a really bad meth epidemic.

Only seven years earlier, in 1983, Albany had been named an All-America city by the National Civic League. This was, in fact, kind of a big deal. The award recognizes the work of communities that use inclusive civic engagement to address critical issues and foster strong connections among residents, businesses, nonprofit, and the local government.

In the space of seven years, so much had changed. The meth epidemic had devoured this little town that I really loved. Many friends and family members of mine became addicts. It was painful to watch.

I had heard about this thing called Community Policing. It was a model of policing that focused on inserting officers into very approachable locations within their communities, on foot or bike or horseback. The goal was to build trust and take preventive action through various outreach programs.

I was interested in working with at-risk youth, especially regarding drug addiction.

L.B.C.C. had a law enforcement program that was actively evangelizing community policing.

So I switched my major.

I discovered I loved law, and systems, and problem solving. I loved the idealism and the thought of being an agent of positive change in my community.

I had two classes left to finish out my two year degree…but funding cuts affected class availability. I dithered around for two extra terms to try to catch those classes but they never materialized, so I took an A.S. in General Education so I could finally just graduate and get to work. (I was scholarshipped, worked part-time and lived with my grandma, but being a single parent was still difficult, financially).

My advisor was excited for me. I was a 3.83 student. I was a scholarshipped track athlete in the best shape of my life. I was motivated and principled. My chances for employment were very good.

Here’s the reality though…the local law enforcement organizations did not quite embrace community policing.

Interviews were rough – they often consisted of several types of law enforcement officials, all of them white, middle-aged men. Many of the questions they asked were very open ended.

Here’s an example:

“Your T.O. (Training Officer) and you are out on patrol. He sees the owner of a gun shop walking on the sidewalk. He has a beef with the gun shop owner because the businessman would not give your T.O. a “law enforcement discount”. Your T.O. pulls over and tells you to arrest the guy. What do you do?”

Well, the obvious answer (at least to me) was to tell him no. As a cop, it would be my duty to uphold the law. I’m not above it. I had no reason to arrest the guy.

But guess what? That would also mean disobeying your superior’s direct order.

The correctness of whatever answer was given truly depended on the whim of the interviewers.

For about a year, from 1991-1992, I interviewed with all levels of local law enforcement, from city departments to corrections. My idealism was destroyed.

At the same time, we started seeing a big shift in law enforcement mentality and tactics. The Stormtroopers started arriving. In 1994 the Crime Bill was passed, our military was shrunk, there was a fire sale on war toys, and a lot of soldiers were left needing jobs.

Newsflash…cop and soldier should not be synonymous. Soldiers are supposed to defend, invade, and kill. Cops are supposed to “protect and serve” – this is the opposite of killing.

But here we are today.

*Originally posted on Facebook on June 14, 2020.

Published by Jonah Sheridan Fenn

Nerd herder, word wrangler, working on the next chapter...

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