Changing of the guard: Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander retires

In this remarkably candid interview, find out what goals Commander Bill Walker met during his nearly 30-year tenure as a Portland cop …

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Bill Walker fills in for Chief Mike Reese at the June 30 Police Awards Ceremony at David Douglas High School.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Instead of giving orders and filling out paperwork, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander Bill Walker decided to spend the week of July 11 mostly out of the office, in a patrol car, answering calls for service in the Brentwood-Darlington and Lents areas.

“It’ll be the last week of my time with the Bureau,” Walker remarked, as he talked about his 29½ year career coming to and end. “I want to work the district in a marked patrol car, serving the area where I spent the majority of my career. I want to finish it like I started, wearing the uniform, riding in a marked car.”

A family tradition
“My father was a Portland Police Officer, and rose to the rank of Deputy Chief before he retired in 1984. He came back in 1986 as Chief, and served as Chief for about 3½ years before he retired a second time. My mother-in-law worked for the Bureau for 27 years in a non-sworn position. My brother-in-law was a Portland Police Reserve Officer for seven or eight years; my son is 14-year Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy, and my son-in-law is a four-year member of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

“And, of course, I joined the Portland Police Bureau in December of 1981. Yes, one might say our family is deeply involved in law enforcement!

Commander Bill Walker greets Portland Police Bureau Chief Mike Reese when he visits East Precinct.

Not pressured into law enforcement
“Honestly, my dad never talked about his job or career at home. He had a full life, apart from being a police officer.  He retired as a full Colonel out of the Army Reserve, and was a Portland State University teacher

“I remember going to the old Central Precinct at SW 2nd Avenue at SW Oak Street. My little brother and I played bumper pool in the weight room while my dad was upstairs. He took us on a tour of the facility as well as the City Jail – back when the city had a jail.

“I think having interaction with good police officers like Jerry McDermott as a young man had something to do with it. Knowing those law enforcement officers, it was just something that I wanted to do. My dad tried to persuade me to try other careers, and study for something else in college. But, I didn’t listen.”

Gains management experience in private sector
“Right after high school, I started working for window manufacturer Viking Industries. I was there for seven years, and ended up being a supervisor running a department. Maybe that leadership role helped my in during my police career.

“Viking is no longer around; so I’m really glad I changed professions!”

As a district officer – a cop that is assigned to respond to calls in a certain area – Walker said he spent a great deal of his career in the Brentwood-Darlington and Lents Neighborhoods. “It does help to know the area. Most of the people with whom I dealt are no longer there, but the area is pretty much the same.

Remembering back to a time when suspect information wasn’t readily available, Commander Walker looks through the stack of ‘mug shots’ he’s collected during his career.

“But, law enforcement technology has changed a lot in 29 years.

“When I was hired, we didn’t have computers in the cars – we really didn’t have computers at all. We had to type up documents – such as search warrants – on an electric typewriter using carbon paper.

“And then – I’ve kept a stack of them — there are photographs of suspects…mug shots.  If there was someone in your district on whom you wanted all the particulars, you’d get a mug shot photo of this person. Then, you’d write all the information – addresses, automobiles, physical description and associates – on the back of the mug shots. I still have a stack of probably 400 mug shots that I’ve kept since I started my career.

“Today, it’s all computerized; officers can bring up information on computer screens in their [patrol] cars.

“We carried revolvers when we started; now we have semi-automatic pistols. Then, we carried straight stick baton; now it’s a collapsible baton. And, now we have many less-lethal weapons, like Tazers and bean-bag shotguns. Back then, fingerprinting was done with ink; now with the IBIS (Integrated Biometric Identification System) system, officers can do it in the street and get a positive identification almost immediately.

“Training has certainly improved from when I was hired. We were taught how to write a police reports, how to take people into custody, how to drive a police car and how to shoot in a dark, dusty cavern. The rest of it, you learned on your own.

“Now, officers train [with their pistols] using computerized targets. Officers are also trained in many disciplines, such as crisis intervention; and legal aspects of police work, such as writing search warrants.”

Commander Walker explains how gangs have changed the City’s approach to law enforcement at a Citizens’ Advisory Meeting.

Observing changes in society
“When I was hired, other than ‘biker gangs’, we didn’t have gangs in the City of Portland. There were no Bloods; no Crips. I was hired with a group of officers who came up from California who told us that we were five to 10 years behind the times, and the gangs would eventually come up Interstate 5. They were right.

“In 1988 we had the Ray Ray Winston shooting – the first gang-related homicide in the City of Portland. Since then, there’s been a huge influx of gang members coming up from California – both African-American and Hispanic gangs.

“Younger kids see older brothers involved in gang life. The gang acts as a family for them. They imitate the behavior of older gang members in terms of behavior and clothing. Instead of focusing on academics in school, they’re focusing on gang life. Because gangsters don’t attend school, they don’t have regular work opportunities, because they’re uneducated.

“Pretty soon you, have to prove yourself to the gang, and you have to shoot somebody in an opposing ‘gang set’. Gangs were involved in drug activity for a long time, but now they have also turned to prostitution. A lot of older gangsters are pimps. That’s different from in the past, and it’s a huge social dysfunction that we’re seeing right now in that community.

“We have had a record number of shootings this year, compared to previous years.  That is definitely on the increase.

“When I was hired, cocaine was a drug of choice, and some marijuana. Then they went to methamphetamine, and now its heroin – which is unfortunate. Heroin is highly addictive. You ‘shoot up’ once, and can be addicted for life. It’s so cheap, and so easy to get on the street.”

Leading off the 2011 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, Commander Walker waves to the crowd.

The lighter side: Coworkers and community
“The lighter side of this job is being around the men and women – sworn and non-sworn – who work here and do a terrific job every day. The majority of them come to work with a smile on their face; they enjoy being here, going out and working really hard.

“Another bright part is the community itself. It’s going out to different public events, like the Gateway Fun-O-Rama and 9-1-1 Tribute, the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade – and the monthly Citizens Advisory Council meetings. The interaction is positive, supportive, and it’s like we’re friends. That’s really good.

“And the kids we meet in the community usually don’t see the negative side of a policeman. We see little kids smiling at us. You give them a little sticker badge and it’s the coolest thing for them; they walk away smiling.”

Out early on a cold December morning in 2010, Commander Walker pauses from loading up Sunshine Division food boxes he’ll deliver to needy community members.

Walker’s three accomplishments
“There were three things I really wanted to accomplish when I joined the Bureau.

“First was to become a member of the Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) – the best job in the Bureau. This is a group dedicated to working harder than anyone else – being physically and mentally prepared to go out and run toward a situation when everyone is running away from the gun fire – like at the KOIN Tower incident, for example. I got to do it for eight years.

“Secondly, I wanted to be a sergeant. The ‘street’ sergeanta are the leaders; the men and women I looked up to. After becoming a sergeant, everything being beyond in my career has just been amazing – like rising to the level of Commander.

“The third thing that I wanted is to still be married to the same woman to whom I was married when I started this career. We’ve been married more than 37 years. There is a high divorce rate across the board, in police work. Although my wife didn’t want me to go into law enforcement, she has supported me every day, every step of the way.”

As the July, 2011 Citizens’ Advisory Meeting gets underway, Chief Reese presents Walker with his retirement badge.

After his retirement, Walker said he plans to do some local travel and keep working with the “Z-Man Scholarship Foundation” for high school students.

“I’ve have two grandchildren, and I want to be able to spend as much time with them as I can. And, I do have a Harley Davidson in the garage that needs a lot more miles put on it.”

We asked what Walker would miss the most, when he wakes up on the morning of July 16?

The commander paused, and took a deep breath. He looked down and silently struggled to find words to express feelings that appear to be sad, as tears welled up in his eyes.

“I think I will miss most the opportunity to put this uniform on every day, and head out to serve our community with so many other great people at the Bureau. This job is not ‘who I am’, but I’ve really enjoyed it. That’s going to be the toughest part.

“On July 15, my last day here, I will have my Harley in the East Precinct parking garage.  As I’m leaving work for the last time, I plan to jump on my motorcycle and ride off on my ‘steel horse’. That’s my plan.”

He didn’t want a party to mark his departure from the Bureau – but East Precinct neighbors couldn’t resist bringing this decorated cake to his last Citizens’ Advisory Meeting.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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