Rolling in the New Year, on an East Portland beat

You might be surprised to see what happened on New Year’s Eve when we went on patrol with one of Portland Police Bureau’s finest ‚Ķ

Officer John Billard, a three-year veteran at Portland Police Bureau East Precinct, checks a driver’s identification and writes Traffic Safety Notice to a driver ‚Äì his first one for the new year ‚Äì in the early hours of 2007.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
To most people, New Year’s Eve is an occasion to go on the town, raise the roof and party heartily, or celebrate the New Year at home.

But to many service workers, including cops, the evening hours of December 31 are merely another scheduled working shift.

On the town, on patrol
Just before 10:00 p.m., we grab our camera bag and slide into the patrol car staffed by Officer John Billard, a three-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct.

This is the first time he’s pulled a New Year’s Eve shift, the officer tells us. “By all accounts, it will be like any of the other holidays. Some people will get a little drunk and goofy.”

Billard is assigned to patrol District 40. It’s comprised of the greater Parkrose area and part of the Gateway district. It runs from SE Stark St. north to NE Sandy Blvd.; from I-206 east to Gresham.

As we set out on patrol, our area is quiet. Radio calls are infrequent. We learn that, for years, Billard worked for Macy’s in Arizona, doing “loss prevention”. Impressed with his local cop’s professionalism, he decided to change profession and become a law enforcement officer when he moved to the Portland area.

Looking for trouble
“We’re focusing on SE 160th between Burnside and Stark St.,” Billard tells us. “There’s lots of criminal activity here.” We take a slow drive through several of the apartment complexes along the way.

A manager of one of the apartment buildings walks up to the car and greets officer Billard. “We’re watching a unit here,” the manager tells the officer, “I found out they’re friends of the occupants we kicked out last week. Thanks for coming by.”

We get a radio call and head north, responding to a “panic alarm” on NE 157th Ave. between NE Broadway and Schiller. Billard meets the homeowner who says he saw someone in his garage. Another officer arrives, and both cops carefully check the home and yard. “We didn’t find anything,” Billard says, as he “clears the call”. “But we’re here to serve.”

A young man is reported shooting a BB gun at passing vehicles from his balcony. It’s at the apartments we’d just visited at SE 160th and Burnside. After checking out the complaint, Billard reports, “There were conflicting stories. We didn’t find enough ‘probable cause’ to make an arrest.” Most likely, he adds, police presence was enough to get them to stop doing it, if they were.

After neighbors flag us down, reporting activity a closed business on NE Sandy Blvd. in Parkrose, Officer Billard does a “premise check” and finds all to be secure.

Hunt for a fugitive
It’s now 30 minutes ’till midnight. Billard says he’s looking for a fugitive. The patrol car’s computer shows the female fugitive’s credentials: Arrests for prostitution, drug distribution, mail theft, fraud ‚Äì this would be a good person to get off the street before the New Year starts, he says.

He’s joined by two additional officers along NE Fremont St. in Parkrose. “She ran out the back door and got away last night. We’ll see if we can pick her up tonight.” But, the woman isn’t at the residence tonight. “We’ll get her another night,” Billard says.

Fireworks at the midnight hour
Minutes tick by. It’s midnight. As the New Year arrives, fireworks light up the East Portland sky. Celebrants at NE 148 and Glisan appear to be careless with Roman Candles. Billard talks with them briefly, they agree to be more careful.

“Compared to any other weekend night,” Billard comments, “I’m surprised at how quiet it is.”

We drive past Gateway and Parkrose businesses, including the bingo hall on outer SE Stark Street – and observe that the parking lots are filled to capacity.

A headlight is out on a white Honda driving east on Stark St. “We’re tasked to stop all vehicles with equipment violations,” Billard stays. “It gives us the opportunity to check in on the driver. We write a warning ticket if they appear sober.” The driver, a waitress just off work at Hooters, does appear sober, Billard says.

Ready for action, but all is quiet
The madness and mayhem one might expect on the New Year’s Eve shift never materializes. We ask the officer if anything has surprised him since becoming a cop.

“People say this is ‘thankless’ job,” Billard replies. “But, I’ve been thanked by citizens countless times. Not that I’m doing this job to get praised; it is still nice to know that the good people in East Portland appreciate what I ‚Äì and all of our bureau ‚Äì do out here every day and night.”

The officer pauses and a small smile breaks across his face. “The other thing is, until you actually are on the job,” he says, “it doesn’t occur to you how widely varied are some people’s ‚Äì how should I put it ‚Äì level of personal hygiene. It was more than surprising. The smell wasn’t anything I was prepared for.”

Designated drivers prevent problems
We see the driver of a gold Camry pull in front of us from a side street as we make our way west on E. Burnside St. A tail light is out. Officer Billard “lights them up” with the patrol car’s brilliant blue and red flashing lights. The driver pulls into the parking lot of an apartment building. “Sometimes, drivers try to ditch us in a parking lot,” he says.

An equipment violation leads to this traffic stop. However, the “designated driver” was, indeed sober.

Billard returns to the patrol car with the identification of the three occupants. He queries the computer and finds, as they told him, the two male riders indeed live in the building. The female driver is sober. “She’s doing the right thing tonight, by being the designated driver for her friends.”

On into the early morning hours of January 1, we continue to monitor the local party spots.

In the parking lot of Boss Hogg’s on SE 102nd, we see one person taking the car keys of another. “We’ll get your car in the morning,” was the promise we hear being made. The drunken reveler wants to argue, but sees our police cruiser stopped across the street. He accepts the ride.

It’s well after 1 a.m. The streets of outer East Portland are empty.

Lights go out at residents and businesses across the district. No murders, fights, nor drunken wrecks take place on this watch. “There wasn’t a lot of action,” Billard says as he drops us off in the cold morning air, “but perhaps, because we were seen on patrol, we saved a life or two.”

¬© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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