Salem Police Chief Jerry Moore addressed a foundation audience Wednesday, Feb. 25, at the fourth annual Breakfast with the Chief. Here is the text of his remarks.
I would be less than honest if I told you this hasn’t been an interesting, and tough year for law enforcement. In the 37 years I’ve been a police officer, never before have I seen such attention directed at the men and women of law enforcement all over this country. And unfortunately, not all of it has been positive. A guest instructor at our in-service training suggested there is a national “war on police officers,” and, although that might go too far, I know our officers recognize a change in how we are perceived.
Discussions of biased policing, body cams, excessive use of force, militarization of the police, all of these seem to be at the forefront of every form of media imaginable. Negative comments, commentary and allegations of improper conduct fill the airwaves. We had protestors marching outside our own front door for events that occurred thousands of miles away. All of these things, in addition to sensationalizing 20-second videos that don’t tell a whole story but depict the worst case scenario, regardless of what actually happened, often cause people to pause and reflect on their police agencies.
I‘ve learned over the years it is often human nature to focus on the negative, and when we do that we sometimes forget the goods things people accomplish. That is so true in police work. For every 20-second video of a police officer doing something questionable, there are thousands of opportunities to catch an officer doing something right. But that just isn’t always newsworthy, nor does it usually make it to YouTube. And just an aside, have you ever wondered why those people videotaping a police officer fighting someone didn’t just help the officer instead of filming them? I do.
Heaven knows, police officers aren’t perfect. We are made up of human beings with all the frailties that brings. But when I talk to our officers about being perfect I tell them, it doesn’t hurt to try! And I know they get it.
But amidst all this current of negativity, something interesting is happening on the journey by some to disparage the police. Salem is responding differently.
Good people are stepping up. In numbers and ways our officers never really imagined would happen. And I can’t tell you how much they appreciate it.
People have stopped our officers on the street and gone out of their way to thank them, told them they appreciate what we do for them, ask us to hang in there because they have our backs. When our officers pulled up through the drive-through to get a quick cup of coffee they learned the person in front of them had already paid for it. Cookies and baked goods began to arrive at the front counter of the police station, along with notes, e-mails and letters, many from children, expressing their belief in us. That is Salem.
Shortly after the result of the Ferguson investigation was released, pastors of the communities of color invited us to a local church service of their collective communities. Even with visions of what I had seen on TV, protests and yelling, angry mobs and police under attack running through my mind, I decided to accept the invitation. What I found simply amazed me.
The entire service was void of anger and finger pointing. The message was clear – it is a time to heal, not attack, a time to teach our children what is right, a time to communicate and make things better, even while the rest of the world is spinning out of control. That is Salem.
The service and discussion so moved me that I wanted all our officers to have the same opportunity to hear the pastors, so I’ve invited the pastors to our in-service training classes for discussions with our officers – two way communication that is good for both the pastors and their communities to hear, but also for our officers to understand the perspectives that only face to face, non-accusatory discussions can offer. Candid, honest discussions void of any finger pointing or blame. Frankly, some of the pastors have never seen the police side of things, and we as police officers have never walked a mile in their shoes. I know these discussions have been meaningful, and even though bad things can happen in this world, it is both the pastors and my intent to never let Salem be another Ferguson. That is Salem.
And finally, a room full of supporters at a Salem Police Foundation event on a Wednesday morning in Salem Oregon. That is Salem.
I have to tell you one of my favorite stories. After last year’s event, one of my veteran sergeants (Mike Johnson) told me the event was like medicine to him. Dealing with the negatives associated with police work day in and day out can have an impact on you. The Foundation event made him feel so good that people would show their support and clearly thank them for the things they do – because that doesn’t always happen. That is Salem, too.
I’d like to think we have earned that support through our work and how we represent ourselves. And as I have learned throughout my career, this job is all about people and relationships. Good training and equipment surely make our job easier, but it is how we treat people that will be the measure of how this community judges us.
I often say cops are special. I tell our officers that. This is not a job, but a calling. You better be ready to see people at their worst, live in a world of conflict, and be able to handle that day in and day out without letting it destroy you. It’s why the officers go places no one else is willing to go and do the things no one else is willing to do, all to keep those around them safe.
Police work changes you, I recognize that. That’s why when we go out to dinner with our family or friends they sometimes don’t understand why we won’t sit with our back to the door, or never seem to maintain eye contact when someone is talking to us. They don’t realize we are making sure we are protecting them by watching everyone coming and going around them. It isn’t paranoia – just doing what we’ve learned to do to take care of people.
We also understand we live in a fishbowl. That everywhere we go to do what needs to be done, phones and cameras will be filming every move we make. My officers have an answer to that – bring it on, we have nothing to hide.
Related to that has been the great deal of discussion about body cams. Some think they are the answer to everything regarding police encounters. I understand how simple it sounds to put a camera on a police officer so we can see everything they do. But it really isn’t that simple. Common sense has to be involved in the application of that tool. The simplistic mindset doesn’t take into account the privacy issues I believe are fundamental for the dignity of people, some who might be filmed at the worst moments of their lives, so that later someone can post it on YouTube and get a good laugh at the expense of others. Or how wearing a camera, in a day and age when we are trying to get people to approach us, talk to us and feel comfortable around us might just intimidate people and make them change their mind about approaching us.
I get the fact that cameras are in our future, but it is our intent to do it right! Right for the officers that will use them, but even more importantly, right for this community.
I’m proud of this organization and the way we treat people, but it’s relationships, not technology, that will be the reason this community will trust and believe in us. As I have often commented, it is not what we say, what we do, or technology that people will remember, it is how we make them feel.
We are lucky to live and work in Salem where we have a community that goes out of its way to work with us. We have incredible partners in the criminal justice system, Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers, our district attorney Walt Beglau, our partners in all facets of government that bend over backwards to help us, just as we do for them. That is Salem, too.
We have friends, allies and supporters throughout this community. You are the perfect example of that. I often tell my officers this community wants to love them, trust them, give us their support. But I also tell them we need to earn that trust and respect, and we do that every day by how we carry ourselves and how we do our job.
My words never adequately describe how much it means to our officers to have you here with us today. It is huge. Thank you for being here today, thank you for your support, thank you for all you do to allow us the privilege of serving you. I know I speak for all the men and women who make up the Salem Police Department when I tell you it is our honor to do so.