A cop’s Thanksgiving: On patrol in East Portland

Discover why even holidays are “just another day on duty” for many Portland Police Bureau officers …

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Andy Feist spends some of his Thanksgiving Day shift writing reports.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
By noon, the most dramatic event of Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Andy Feist’s Thanksgiving Day shift had already occurred – he’d been punched in the forehead by a man with mental health issues.

“He wasn’t taking his medications, and he didn’t realize that his actions were having a great impact on the family,” Feist said. “When a mental health professional arrived at the home, and decided to issue a ‘mental health hold’ on him so he could be taken to the hospital and receive treatment, he punched me in the head.

“He was aiming for my face, but I ducked a little.”

With the aid of two additional officers, the man was subdued and taken in for treatment, reported Feist. “Hopefully, his family will have a little bit better Thanksgiving Day.”

Feist was still writing the report regarding that incident at the East Precinct office when I met him for a “ride-along” in his patrol car on the holiday afternoon. Soon, we were back in “Patrol District 920” – the area from S.E. Holgate Boulevard south to Clackamas County, and from S.E. 39th Avenue east to 82nd Avenue of Roses.

“It’s a good-sized area,” Feist observed. “We’ll typically have two or three officers working the district. It’s not an assigned district for me; but, having come from the former Southeast Precinct, I’ve worked this area many times.”

Officer Feist gives “special attention” to areas where trouble often flares.

Driving down a residential street near the northeastern edge of the territory, he pointed out a house. “The neighbors say it’s a drug house; they’ve been complaining about it. They’re afraid of retribution, they say. So, we’re giving this street a little special attention.”

Methamphetamine is still prevalent problem around here, Feist said – even though most of the meth labs locally have been closed down. “It’s because of the large quantities being brought in from Mexico. A little over a week ago I arrested a guy that had a meth pipe with residue. Later in the day, I arrested another man with less than an ounce of meth on him. Two days later I arrested a girl with 2 ounces of methamphetamine on her – that’s a dealer quantity, worth about $2,400.”

No calls for service arrived on the officer’s radio, or via the patrol car’s Mobile Data Terminal computer, so Feist continued to weave his way through Southeast Portland neighborhoods. Slowly driving north on S.E. 36th Avenue, a couple of streets west of the District 920 boundary, he commented, “It’s usually pretty quiet here. But, seeing a police car rolling through the neighborhood lets people know we’re here for them, if we’re needed.”

As a ten-year veteran of the force, Feist said he’s worked his share of holidays. “It’s human nature to want to be home with one’s family on a holiday. I’d much rather be at home with my family than driving around in a patrol car, on a dark day, in the pouring-down rain.

“But, this year Thanksgiving Day fell on a regular workday. This is my job; this is what I want to do. I want to be here if people need help or assistance. It’s my day to do it, so I do it. There’s no reason to be upset about days you have on or off; you spend time with your family after your shift.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be holidays that generate few police calls, Feist disclosed. “We’ll start getting more calls for service in the evening. Many people have folks in from out-of-town, or the whole family will be in the house all day together because it’s raining, and they’ll start getting on each other’s nerves. But most of the family-disturbance calls come in because of people getting into the beer, wine, and ‘whatever else’, throughout the day.”

Officer Feist presents a written traffic warning to a driver who behaved carelessly, but not recklessly.

As the police cruiser drove west on S.E. Foster Road, an SUV rapidly pulled out of a convenience store parking lot and headed for the Blockbuster store across the street near S.E. Holgate Boulevard. Feist flipped on his flashing red-and-blue lights and pulled up behind the truck in the video store’s parking lot.

After talking with the driver, Feist said he decided to issue a written warning instead of a traffic citation. “He acknowledged what he’d done, and there were no signs of driver impairment. He said he was surprised to see that the video store was open; he’s learned from this [experience], by getting stopped.”

Most district officers don’t want to give tickets to motorists for minor traffic violations, he said. “I don’t want to ruin their holiday, but I’ll let them know the reason why I was concerned about their driving behavior.”

But when it comes to impaired drivers, he added, “We don’t want any drunk drivers ruining anyone’s holiday – either for the day, or for the rest of their lives.” There won’t be any misgivings about making a drunk-driving arrest.

On the road again, Feist admitted that he’d wanted to be a cop ever since he was seven years old, when a police officer friend of his parents took him for a ride in a patrol car. “I graduated from college with a major in criminal justice. I’ve always wanted to have a job in which I can help people, and make a difference in the community.”

Just rolling through the parking lot of a local shopping center, Feist said, helps detour criminal activity.

The officer detoured off S.E. Woodstock Boulevard to drive slowly through a grocery superstore parking lot. “Just being seen here – the presence of the car rolling through – discourages bad behavior.”

Officer Feist scanned the scene – shoppers picking up last-minute Thanksgiving Day treats. “We don’t target or ‘profile’ individuals; instead, we’re looking for behaviors that raise our suspicions. Just because I’m looking at someone doesn’t mean that I think they’re doing something wrong. I’m a people person; I like watching people, and talking with them.”

Then the radio crackled to life, asking him to assist another officer with a transient camped out in the shelter of a restaurant’s overhanging roof. We arrived at the address, and the officers talked with the man, helped him up, and moved him along.

Aiding another officer in responding to a restaurant’s complaint, Feist encourages a homeless man to seek less-public shelter.

“I feel bad,” Feist said. “He just wants a dry place to stay. However this restaurant is open, and customers have expressed concerns about having to walk past him. He said he’s been on the street for four years because of alcoholism. Even though we asked him to move to a less conspicuous place, he thanked us, and told us the police have always treated him with respect.”

The Thanksgiving Day rainstorm relentlessly battered the patrol car’s windshield with large raindrops, as the officer continued to visit trouble spots in the Southeast Portland neighborhoods he was serving.

About his career choice, Feist continued, “I do like my job; it’s a great profession. You’re out on the street, ready to be of service, either by yourself or with a partner. The scenery is constantly changing; you’re not in a cubicle. It’s not for everyone. You can’t ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’. When people say mean things to you, you have to be able to let it slide – not take it personally.”

Hours after our ride-along started, Feist stopped by Sawyer’s Market at S.E. 60th Avenue and Flavel Street. The officer stepped out to talk with three young people hanging out just outside the door, next to the pay phone. “The neighbors complain that this seems to be a gathering place; but these kids all have good ID, and say they’re waiting for a ride.”

As Feist dropped us off at the end of our ride, he said he was now looking forward to a Thanksgiving dinner with his family, at the conclusion of his 10-hour shift.

Although police decisions are sometimes second-guessed by press and public, our experience with Officer Feist left us thankful that there are men and women who choose to help keep our neighborhoods safe and livable – even on dark, rainy holidays when they’d rather be at home.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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