Jeff Groth, Sherwood chief of police and a member of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, gathers comments from citizens at Tuesday’s town hall on the Elgin Police Department. The chiefs association is conducting an independent review of Elgin’s department in an effort to help the city resolve controversy. Citizens have voiced a host of complaints about the department, which is headed by Kevin Lynch. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Meeting part of review police chiefs association is conducting regarding Elgin’s law enforcement dept.ELGIN — Three members of the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police hosted a community meeting about the Elgin Police Department Tuesday, steering conversation away from specific complaints and toward suggestions for making the department better.
Jeff Groth, Craig Junginger and Rick Lewis, respectively the chiefs of police in Sherwood, Gresham and Silverton, met with about 100 citizens at the Elgin Opera House.
The three are conducting a non-binding agency review at the request of the City of Elgin. At the meeting’s outset, the chiefs said their purpose was to gather ideas on what people think a good police department should be.
The meeting was not designed, they said, to be a gripe session.
“The real purpose is to make recommendations on issues that will make the police department and the community successful,” Junginger said.
The stated approach didn’t sit well with many who came.
“I was led to believe you’d come and talk to the townspeople and get to what they’re bothered about,” one man said.
Long-simmering controversy over the police department came to a head Aug. 1 after Elgin Police Officer Erik Kilpatrick shot city resident Richard Shafer to death while answering a domestic disturbance call Aug. 1.
A Union County grand jury ruled the shooting was justified, but since the incident debate has raged over a host of police-connected issues.
A large and vocal segment has aired complaints about uneven enforcement, slow response times, inadequate staffing, Kilpatrick’s alleged propensity for reaching for his gun, and more. Others have expressed support for the department and its beleaguered chief, Kevin Lynch.
The police chiefs association agreed to do an agency review following a contentious community meeting hosted by the city Aug. 16.
Tuesday’s meeting at the opera house was part of the review that will include study of police policies and procedures, facilities, and more. Junginger said the chiefs association
doesn’t usually hold community meetings in conjunction with agency reviews, but felt an exception had to be made for Elgin.
“A town hall component isn’t usually a part of the review but we realize there are controversial issues and we wanted you to be a part of this,” he said.
The chiefs asked residents to state what qualities they think a good police department should have. Each suggestion would be written down, then prioritized at the end of the meeting.
Though the chiefs said they didn’t want to entertain stories or complaints on past occurrences, residents worked to get them in.
“How about a police department that’s on duty?” one man said. “When I was younger and you got in trouble there was a cop in the shop. Now, after 8 p.m., you have to go to the county sheriff.”
All the comments offered aloud were negative, including one from a woman who said the police department is low on integrity.
“I think you should put integrity on that list because the police department has none,” she said.
Another man said he supports the idea of disbanding the city department and contracting for law enforcement services with the county sheriff.
“What we want to see up there is the police department dissolved,” he said.
Working from the comments, the chiefs managed to compile a long list of qualities people think the department should have. Attendees then came forward and placed stickers next to the ones they thought were most important. Accountability and honesty topped the list.
During a break in the meeting, Groth told reporters that the review is concerned with helping the department improve performance and community relations. Things like personnel issues are to be resolved by the city.
“This is not to determine if the chief should stay or go. Our focus is on where the agency is and what can be done to make it better,” he said.
Groth said his group understands that Elgin is going through an emotional time, but added he has the impression that negative feelings about the police department aren’t unanimous.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say they support the department, though they didn’t want to express it here,” he said.
Groth said the chiefs will write their report after their site visit this week. He said he, Junginger and Lewis will work to get it done as soon as possible, but couldn’t promise a definite date.
He said the report will be sent to Chief Lynch. He added he will urge Lynch to allow the association to give the report to others, including members of the city council.
After the list of qualities was compiled and prioritized, the three chiefs set aside some time to listen to some of the specific complaints of residents, though they stressed it isn’t in their power to resolve them.
One woman expressed unhappiness with Lynch’s handling of an allegation that her son was molested by another juvenile. A man complained that Kilpatrick unsnapped his pistol holster when answering a call at the man’s house about a disturbance.
Still another woman complained about being stopped because she failed to signal when she pulled out of her driveway.
Residents who spoke at the meeting were not required to give their names, and most didn’t.