Keizer Police Chief John Teague (left) speaks at a recent West Keizer Neighborhood Association meeting as WKNA president Rhonda Rich listens in the background. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Keizer Police Chief John Teague (left) speaks at a recent West Keizer Neighborhood Association meeting as WKNA president Rhonda Rich listens in the background. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

It’s no secret things are done differently these days at the Keizer Police Department.

Chief John Teague feels the changes have been for the better – even if that isn’t always easy to show in numbers.

Teague, who took over as Keizer’s police chief in September 2013 following the retirement of Marc Adams, explained his approach and the results thus far during the January West Keizer Neighborhood Association meeting.

One of the main emphasis for Teague was talking about a change to problem-oriented policing (POP) and restarting the Community Response Unit (CRU).

“Our industry is going to more problem-oriented policing, trying to figure out problems,” Teague said. “For decades we chased the numbers. Just because we make a bunch of arrests doesn’t mean we live in a safe place. When we made safety our goal, we recognized it may be we need to change what we’re doing.”

As part of that, Teague has given Lt. Andrew Copeland the authority to go through reports, identify problems and use CRU and patrol resources to solve the problems.

Teague said people such as a “crazy guy” on Larry Avenue are being talked to and babysat in an attempt to be ahead of issues, instead of simply responding repeatedly as happened in the past.

“It helps the neighbors to feel better,” he said. “We’d rather be ahead of the problems, rather than have the neighbors deal with it. The new way of doing business is going out into neighborhoods so we hear about the problems.”

Such efforts came to fruition earlier this month when CRU members made a drug bust on a house where drugs had been dealt for 22 years.

Teague referenced a foreclosed house on Verda Lane last year where transients were squatters. CRU members made contact numerous times, after forcing the New York bank owning the property to do a foreclosure notice.

“Those are the kinds of things you want us to do,” Teague told audience members. “It not only makes you feel safer, you are safer.”

Attacking drug issues is an example of a delicate balance.

“The payoff has been tremendous,” Teague said. “We have shut down some of the drug houses that were cancerous. But it came at the expense of the Traffic Safety Unit. We reassigned them into CRU. We couldn’t focus on organized retail crime, which is a major problem at Keizer Station.”

There is another issue with using POP.

“The problem with POP is how do you measure if you’re doing a good job?” Teague asked rhetorically. “If the goal is community safety, how do you measure it? It’s easy to measure things like calls and citations. But that doesn’t tell you how safe you feel. I’m not real clear on how to measure that.”

Teague pointed to the barricade on Sandy Drive behind McNary High School as a trouble spot for more than 20 years.

“It was a major neighborhood problem,” Teague said. “We worked with the school. We put the gate up, shut and locked it. Bill (Lawyer, Public Works director) worked with the builders at the new (St. Edward) church to put up a gate. That has solved a 25-year problem. That is POP.”

While officers on patrol are still stopping cars, Teague said officers are being asked to assess the situation before automatically handing out a ticket.

“I want my guys talking to people,” Teague said. “In the Salem-Keizer School District, 49 percent of students come from an impoverished home. A $200 ticket may have a generational impact. If a ticket can affect a family to that degree, (giving it) does not cut down on crime in Keizer. We need to pay attention to what we’re doing to people.”

Mayor Cathy Clark noted the chief has added a forensics investigator position, which Teague said is necessary given the rise in electronics and technology these days.

“I asked before Christmas if there is an exam we can give (to applicants),” Teague said. “Part of the job responsibility is to scout the Internet for child pornography in the area. I don’t want to hire someone who will go sideways on us, because it would wear on a guy. There is so much we do around electronics these days, it can be two-thirds of a detective’s time. That (new position) will be a real boon for us. Not a lot of agencies have that in-house, but all of them are desperate for that.”

Clark referred back to the change between Adams and Teague in the budget process, since Adams often asked for several more cops to be added to the KPD roster.

“We had to wrap our minds around you not asking for 10 cops,” Clark said.

Teague emphasized the importance of being efficient with 37 cops, which is down from a peak of 41 cops.

“If we run the numbers, a city our size ought to have 74 cops, in an average for the nation,” Teague said. “In Oregon it should be 54 cops. By no means do we need 54 cops in Keizer. We’re good for the next 20 years. That is good efficiency.”

Councilor Kim Freeman noted community surveys in recent years have shown citizens want more officers on the street.

“Chief, what are your thoughts if people want more officers on the street?” Freeman asked. “If this is what the chief needs, we will back him up. It’s the job of the council to support him.”

Teague noted he will support the budget city manager Chris Eppley comes up with.

“What we need is another motor cop and two more officers for the night shift,” he said. “When it comes to budget, I will back my city manager.”