Riding in a Police Car… Intentionally?

Are you thinking about joining the Oregon City Police Department? Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a law enforcer? 

The Clackamas Print took a tour around Oregon City’s Police Department and interviewed the Operating Captain David Edwins about how to start a career in law enforcement and its benefits. 

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Captain David Edwins of the Oregon City Police Department discusses the requirements and process of becoming a police officer, including the importance of good moral background. Photos by Joseph Lohmolder.

The Clackamas Print: And what does it take to start a career in law enforcement?

Captain David Edwins: Well, we’re obviously looking for people that have good moral backgrounds. We know that some people make mistakes when they’re younger, so we take all of that into account depending on what those mistakes are. But we’re looking for people who are  21 years old, not a felon, and have good moral background and good character because we do have a thorough background. All you need is a high school diploma, but we encourage people to have more college education. A lot of people go through the military route which is why we have a lot of veterans that work for us. You also have to go through a background check and a psychological examination. Then we try to get you in the police academy, which is about four months long (16 weeks), down in Monmouth. Everybody who’s a police officer in Oregon has to go to this academy. The academy goes through various types of training: firearms, emergency vehicle driving and a bunch of different things. 

Once you’re done with that, you get assigned to several field training officers here in the house, and you ride along with them. So we’re not expecting people to know how to be a police officer. You don’t just come in, get a gun in a badge and then you’re on the street. There’s a good year before you’re actually pretty effective and you’re out there on your own. That’s probably part of the problem we face is it takes so long to get somebody up to speed. When you lose an officer’s aide or have a retirement, you’re looking at a whole year at least until you have somebody able to fill that.

TCP: For students that are already in college, can they go into a law enforcement class? Are there any classes that you could take?

Capt. Edwins: Yes. I think Clackamas Community College has a criminal justice program. Portland State University does. The kind of advice I got ever since I was a younger officer was, get your degree in something that you’re interested in because there really isn’t a requirement. Do I think a criminal justice degree gives you an advantage? Probably a little bit. But if you got an English degree, and you can write very well, a lot of this job entails writing while you go and respond to a call or investigate a crime. You’re writing a long police report detailing what the circumstances are, so we’re looking for people who are articulate in writing.

TCP: When did you first know that you wanted to become a law enforcer?

Capt. Edwins: When I was in high school, a Clark County’s Sheriff deputy and I went on ride-alongs, and the job just fascinated me.

TCP: So how do you get on a ride along?

Capt. Edwins: Just come up here to the Oregon City Police Department front counter and fill out a ride along request. If you’re interested in being a police officer, we definitely want to give you a ride along so you can get an idea of what the job entails.

TCP: Where can students go if they were interested in law enforcement?

Capt. Edwins: We use the National Tech Testing Network. It’s called NTN. I think a lot of what police departments do is go to NTNs website where they administer the test, and then you can apply for multiple agencies that are open from there. The Oregon City website to the human resource website has the police officer positions listed on there, too.

TCP: Why should people consider law enforcement as a career?

Capt. Edwins: I think the biggest thing is, you really do get to make an impact on your community. You get to give a voice to people who don’t have a voice. Say, for example, you’re investigating a domestic violence incident where there’s a very strong power control dynamic. You can make the difference to get that person the resources they need. We have people who have been addicted to drugs who have actually thanked our officers before for making an impact in their life and becoming clean. Sometimes they’ll graduate from drug court and they’ll be like, “Thanks, officer, for holding me accountable and things like that.” So my biggest thing would be that if you want a job that’s rewarding that isn’t monotonous, this is for you.

TCP: Are there any benefits if you join law enforcement?

Capt. Edwins: There’s a purse pension. So if you put in your time, at the end of your career, you’ll get a pension. Not many places offer that. Your medical insurance is paid for as well. Our police department has a police union, so the police contract is there. It’s on the Oregon City website, and the contract overviews vacation and paid time-off. You get a lot of vacation when starting your career, so it’s really a good job. There’s a lot of good benefits.

TCP: Do you get paid when you’re in training? 

Capt. Edwins: You do get paid when you go to the academy. You get paid when you’re in training. Some people, if they have families, can drive back and spend the night with their family. You’re not required to stay down there, but they do offer dorms where you can stay. When I went to the academy I was in Monmouth, Oregon, but now they built a state-of-the-art facility down in Salem. I stayed down there on weekdays so on the weekends, I can come back home.

TCP: Is there an age limit for people wanting to join?

Capt. Edwins: You need to be 21 years old, at least. I do think there’s a medical component to it, but there is no age restriction past 21.

TCP: What are the age demographics of the officers here?

Capt. Edwins: I think our oldest officers are probably around 56 right now, and our youngest is probably 23.

TCP: Are you noticing a lot of differences between the 23-year-old officers and the 56-year-old officers?

Capt. Edwins: There’s that cultural element of millennials compared to older officers, but I think in general, the diversity that they bring is important. If you’re a 20-year-old police officer, you can teach the millennial something, and the millennial has stuff they can teach. They have a new way of looking at the world compared to somebody who’s been here 18 years. I think it’s all your mindset on how you want to look at the world and to not assume that because somebody is 23 that they don’t have good ideas. They might have really good ideas because they haven’t been jaded. So that’s how I look at it.

TCP: If you were to be in a different position in law enforcement, would you want to be anything else or would you stay in the same position you’re currently in?

Capt. Edwins: I was never a detective. I went from patrol officer to a school resource officer stint, which has some kind of detective component to it, where I’d worked at the Oregon City High School for three years. Then I got promoted to sergeant in 2016. Most people that go through the sergeant route have been detectives, but I never did that. It would have been my goal to become a detective to work some of those serious cases, but I don’t regret anything.

TCP: Are there any upcoming projects or future plans for the police department?

Capt. Edwins: When the police department building got built, that was a huge project. Now we’re just going through the transitioning process. The Oregon City news reported that Chief Ban is going to be retiring sometime in August. We are going to be going through a leadership change in the future, so that’s on the horizon. We have a bunch of newer officers on staff because we are at this point where people have been here for 20 to 25 years that are retiring. So that’s what we’re kind of faced with. It’s a challenge to find people who want to be police officers because of the current climate and with the retirees.

TCP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Capt. Edwins: We have a family atmosphere here. We hold each other accountable, obviously. The community supports us and I mean, I’ve done this job for 18 years and I don’t regret this career choice at all. It’s definitely a good gig.

If you are interested and looking for a career within this field, contact Captain David Edwins at 503-793-4621 or dedwins@orcity.org.

This story has been edited for length and clarity.

Dean Bechard