Saying Goodbye to Bend Police Chief Jim Porter 🎧 [with podcast] | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Saying Goodbye to Bend Police Chief Jim Porter 🎧 [with podcast] 

Porter brought yoga, mindfulness, mental health and family supports to Bend's police officers and transformed the morale of the department in just six years

For this week’s “Bend Don’t Break” podcast, we talk with to Former Bend Police Chief Jim Porter. After 20 years with the BPD and six years as the head of the agency, Porter retired a few weeks ago.

click to enlarge Former Bend Police Chief Jim Porter - CITY OF BEND
  • City of Bend
  • Former Bend Police Chief Jim Porter
We cover a lot of ground in this episode: Beginning with Porter’s program to improve officer wellness, we move on to discuss the challenges of answering mental health calls and being charged with helping people without homes. We then dig deeper into the “Defund the Police” movement, the purpose of School Resource Officers, and end with Porter’s powerful take on the murder of George Floyd.

For those interested in police issues and constructive ideas about reforming the system, you won’t want to miss this episode!

LISTEN now or find "Bend Don't Break" on iTunes and SoundCloud

When Porter was hired on as interim chief in 2014, moral was really low among officers. City Manager Eric King had fired the former police chief who was known for an aloof style of leadership that was more militaristic than service oriented. In the midst of that drama, the BPD’s Public Information Officer resigned after it was revealed he was having sexual relations with three city employees and one member of the media.

“We came through some pretty significant personnel issues at that time,” Porter explained. “We spent a lot of time on the wrong side of the news and we'd lost internal accountability and we lost accountability with our staff. Our officers were not performing to the optimum they should have as an organization. Our officers were starting to feel disconnected. They really didn't like coming to work and were disgruntled. It was just probably the worst time I’d seen in a police organization in my career.”

Porter said he’d spent 17 years working with a SWAT team and also in the narcotics division and began to see that the job was really wearing on him. He felt didn’t have time to recover on his days off, and so would bring the fatigue of his long, stressful days home to his family. He decided that something needed to change.

Police officers have elevated rates for suicide, pre-mature death rates, higher levels of stress-related diseases and heart attacks, high divorce rates, and emotional wear from being under the microscope and the center of endless criticism from the communities they serve, according to the Labor Relations Information System website, which posts discussions and podcasts about law enforcement labor issues.

Focus on wellness

“Officer wellness is the ability for an officer to recover from the traumatic calls that they go to,” Porter said. “It’s the ability to be resilient and recover their sleep patterns; their ability to actually engage at home in a meaningful way rather than just having to wait to go back to work. To me, it meant more than just earning a paycheck. It meant a way of life where the family was also involved for the betterment of wellness… Because this this job can be so toxic.”

Porter created a number of programs to improve the emotional and physical health of his officers, which has transformed their morale and job satisfaction over the last six years.

He started a program of stretching and yoga at the beginning of every shift as well as a decompression period of mindfulness and meditation at the end of each shift so that officers don’t bring home the stress of their day. He also provided time for officers to work out while they were on duty. In order to prevent officer injuries, he focused on the ergonomics of the equipment the police crew used, encouraged the City of Bend to invest in larger, more comfortable vehicles, and changed out the protective gear and protective vests the officers were required to wear. All of this has resulted in far less worker compensation claims in the department over the years.

He also implemented a free wellness screening and provided confidential physical and mental health treatment for officers. He created a police spouse program, which grew into a support groups of sorts. The families had access to training and counseling to help process their experience of the challenges of being married to someone in law enforcement.

In a very short time, Porter managed to turn the department around, and because of its national reputation—it won the U.S. Department of Justice Officer Wellness Award in 2018—the department has been able to hire top talent from all over the country.

WATCH: Full interview with Former Bend Police Chief Jim Porter:

Defund the police?

We discussed the topic of “defunding the police” that has gotten so much media attention lately. Proponents of the movement argue that cities should shift money away from police departments and towards social workers, professional counselors and other services.

Since Porter came on as chief, the number mental health calls that have come into 911 has gone up by 200%, Porter said. Porter formed a team specifically trained to go out on these calls and partnered with Deschutes County Behavioral Health to embed a full-time counselor into the force. Still, Porter believes there is more work to be done.

“Here's the challenge: law enforcement has been asked to address the homelessness issue we've been asked to address the mental health issue,” Porter said. “That is not our area of expertise. The answer is not to have police shove homeless people from one place to another. We have a residential crisis where people can't find a place to live. We have people with mental health issues living under bridges, people with addictions living underneath bridges. When you hear ‘defund police,’ what you hear is ‘we want social services better funded, we want housing better funded. We want things to change.’”

Finally, we came full circle and asked Porter about the BPD’s and the public’s response to the statement he released May 29 in regards to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer.

“Inside, my officers are confused. Some of them are very angry. They're saying, ‘I am not a racist, I would never do that to someone of color. I just hate the fact that we have to come out even defend ourselves.' I have officers who adopted biracial kids I have officers who've adopted children of color and they're saying 'I am not a racist, but now I have to wear this because of him.'

“But a lot of [the officers] recognize we all have implicit bias. We just do. The problem with a lot of police training is we're trained into that implicit bias because we're told of cues of criminal activity, and views of trafficking and those kinds of things, and we have quite frankly a little bit of implicit bias. We're working to move away from that.”

When Porter began in 2014, a Portland State University community survey found that 54% of respondents who live here trusted Bend PD to “do the right thing.” That rose to 86% last year.

Bend’s new Police Chief, Mike Krantz begins his job Aug. 10.

Bend Don’t Break” is hosted by the Source Weekly’s publisher Aaron Switzer. Every week, Switzer invites on a someone from the community with a new perspective on living through the COVID-19 pandemic including mental health professionals, economists, artists, business people, local leaders and historians. Subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts.

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