Andrew Copeland will officially be sworn in as Keizer’s fifth police chief on Friday, Sept. 29, surrounded by family and city personnel.
The new chief will take his ceremonial oath at the Oct. 2 city council meeting, capping his 21-year rise within the department.
He succeeds John Teague who retired after his 10-year tenure as chief.
The Chief Copeland Era begins and he is ready.
A member of the 1995 class at McNary High School, life began almost 46 years ago in Pomona, Calif., he lives in Keizer with his wife, Kara. They share three sons and one daughter, ranging in ages 12 to 20.
When he was in his early 20s, Copeland went on a police ride-along with his best friend.
“I fell in love with it,” remembers Copeland. He doesn’t remember the exact reason why he loved it, except, “When I first experienced it here in Keizer; the ability to help people on an everyday basis was unreal. Then you mix in the enforcement side. I really enjoyed holding people accountable for the evil doings of the world. You get to be the good guy in a crazy, evil world.”
He was hired by the Keizer Police Department in early 2002, though the application process “took forever,” Copeland recalled. He was hired by then-Captain Kent Barker and worked under Chief Marc Adams.
There were jobs Copeland held before finding his life’s work in law enforcement. Those jobs, he discovered, were not a good fit— at an agricultural research farm and as a car salesman for his brother-in-law.
“I was terrible at it,” he said about his car selling skills. “I was completely honest with everybody. (But) it did teach me it’s important to be honest, no matter what happens.”
As he prepares to be in charge of the department, Copeland remembers conversations he had with then-Chief Teague and others about the culture of the department and what he wanted it to look like.
He explained they came up with five core attributes: being humble, helpful, empathetic, courageous and conscientious.
For Copeland courage is about moral fortitude, doing the right thing when nobody’s looking and being able to stand up for the right things.
“Do your job and do it well. So nobody has to come in behind you and fix it,” he said.
The new chief inherits a department that he feels is respected by the community.
“We are very fortunate that all of our officers work hard, and they all get along. They’re family, they’re gonna fight. Every once in a while, you’re going to bicker. We have a good culture and we have a good department that wants to serve the community down to each officer here. Every officer wants to help.
“We try to do the right thing all the time, we’re going to fail some people, but if we can act with trustworthy motives and be transparent in the decision that’s made, whether that be taking someone to jail or just giving some counseling or just walking away from something, if we can be fair, impartial, and transparent, I think the community will respect that. And I think they do. It’s been a tremendous outpouring of support for me in getting into this position. I think that speaks to the good people that we have here in this community. You talk about pride, spirit, and volunteerism, I see it all the time,” said Copeland.
Outgoing Chief Teague has been an important mentor to his successor. Copeland and Teague have worked together for the past 10 years. The new chief said that his predecessor has shown him how to treat people well. “He taught me attention to detail and that words matter,” he said of Teague.
To that end Copeland will participate in the second Faith and Blue event on Saturday, Oct. 7, part of the national collaboration between law enforcement and faith organizations to facilitate a safer and stronger community by engaging police officers and residents through the connections of faith-based organizations.
Faith and Blue will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. at Centro Cristiano Agape at 1610 Chemawa Rd. NE, near the Verda Lane round-about.
Faith and Blue is open to everyone and Copeland encourages the public to attend and have a dialogue with the police. Food, beverages and activities are on the menu.
A member of the congregation wanted KPD to talk about police interaction with the Latino community because of the fear that is there.
“They feel like they will not receive as good police services. Some of them are afraid to call the police because they just don’t know what the outcome is,” Copeland said. “ If we could get the message out there that you are not going to be discriminated against, you’re not going to be looked at as different. We just want to come and help and resolve whatever problem you have, and we’ll do it to the best of our ability.”
He went on to explain that one can’t discount experiences people have. Copeland said he has heard stories about some terrible experience they’ve had with law enforcement.
“It’s our job to bridge the gap. It’s not their job to come to us to fix the relationship. It’s our job to go out in the community and to treat people well and to show that we can be fair and impartial and that we want to help. That’s our job,” he said.
As he takes the helm of the police department Copeland must deal with the loss of three positions due to ever-increasing PERS and health insurance costs. He said the organization’s structure will have to change to meet the financial realities, stressing that no patrol officer positions will be cut, though some speciality positions may be.
“We operate on a problem-oriented policing philosophy; that’s very data driven. We use real life data to deploy resources in certain parts of the city to solve problems. And losing positions is going to limit our ability to solve problems,” Copeland said.
The primary focus for the new chief will continue to be community engagement along with more transparency. He also wants to take care of the cops. “I want to give them support. I want to make them feel loved and cared for,” he added.
He then cited the tough calls some officers have to answer such as the death of an infant.
“It takes a toll on your mind,” he said, adding that it is important the officers get the help they need to make it through a career, so they can retire and be good family members.
In 2022 the Keizer Police Department responded to more than 21,000 calls, both officer-initiated and calls for service. Copeland said his time as a patrol officer will inform his work as chief, saying you never forget your roots.
“Officers are always asked to do more than the job description actually states. We do the best we can, remembering those things the public is asking law enforcement to do and how we can do that with limited resources.”
Copeland said the number one issue facing police is the mental health crisis.
“We go every day to somebody who’s having a mental health breakdown. We don’t know why they’re disturbed. We have different resources where we can take individuals, but it is not consistent.”
As the Copeland era begins, he knows he is a lucky man. “I’m fortunate to get to work in this community for the past 21 years and then to also be able to serve as a police chief here and just have better relationships with community members and be able to give back in different ways.”