PPB East Precinct Commander James Crooker increases neighborhood safety

Discover the story about the journey of this Portland Police Bureau Commander – which started in the Lents neighborhood,  and led him back to serve outer East Portland …

Learn more about the Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Commander James Crooker, and see what he’s done for outer East Portland so far.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

In July 2023, the Portland Police Bureau quietly named James Crooker the new East Precinct Commander. Currently East Precinct covers much of East Portland, extending westerly through the Woodstock neighborhood west to S.E. César E. Chávez Boulevard.

Unlike past East Precinct PPB Commanders, Crooker is truly a “local” – which we learned in a recent interview with East Portland News – he grew up in outer East Portland.

“It’s interesting that I’m now serving this community, where I grew up,” mused Crooker. “I graduated from Marshall High School, which doesn’t exist anymore. My mom still lives in the same house where I grew up, and from which I walked to school.”

And, he didn’t grow up wanting to become a police officer. “After high school I was in college, and decided that I wanted something more, so I joined the US Marine Corps.

“After my time in the Marine Corps, going into law enforcement was something that fit like a glove – so, I decided to continue my life of service by transitioning into the Portland Police Bureau,” recollected Crooker. “I fell in love with it the moment I became a Portland Police officer – and I knew it was right for me, in every sense.”

Working at his desk in East Precinct, Commander Crooker examines crime reports as studiously as he does the staffing schedules.

23 years of PPB service, so far
Because PPB officers rotate through all of the precincts, Crooker had what he described as a “very short stint” in East Precinct in 2009, during the 23 years he’s been with the Portland Police.

“But, interestingly, most of my career has been spent in other areas,” Crooker reflected. “For example, I spent a lot of time at Central Precinct, downtown, serving in every rank there. Also, I help put together the PPB Behavioral Health Unit – and, as well, I’ve also served in the Tactical Operations Division (TOC).

“A recent mission was putting together the PPB’s Focused Intervention Team (FIT) – and we were doing that at a very difficult and challenging time,” recalled Crooker. “This was after the 2020 riots, when a lot of officers were leaving the Bureau, and there was reluctance by people to join.”

Commander Crooker listens to the concerns of one of his officers.

Graduated from ‘Commander School’
In addition to working in a wide range of positions, from patrol officer to the leading of specialty teams, Crooker said that he’s also gone through the Commanders Course at DPSST (Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training).

“The training is ongoing,” Crooker remarked. “There’s a lot of specific discipline training in law enforcement, and as you rise up to the ranks you get more exposed to leadership training – and some of the command-level training is required to perform certain functions at the command level.

“Some of that training isn’t directly related to police work! For example – understanding and working with the City of Portland budget.”

During a roll call briefing before a mission, Commander Crooker takes notes on his cell phone.

Uses collaborative leadership style
While some people, when put in a position of power, tend to be authority figures, that’s not his style. “I’ve learned to draw a lot from the people around me,” Crooker mused. “And, it’s just not the people who work for me, but also my peers – and those in the Bureau above me.

“Also, law enforcement leadership has to have a lot of contact with the community. If we lose that touch of the community, which happened during the lockdowns, it becomes difficult to tailor policing to the needs of the community.”

“Even though I’ve been doing this work for a while, it feels like I started just yesterday, because I love serving the community – especially right now in this weird moment,” reflected Crooker.

“And, that ‘weird moment’ I just described is that I get to be the PPB Commander of East Precinct. It’s really rare! It’s both an honor and responsibility to have some direct influence, to the extent it is possible, and to have a direct impact, on crime in an area of which I have personal, intimate knowledge,” said Crooker.

Takes action to curb shooting violence
“When I came to this command, the first thing I took note of was gun violence. We are at an all-time-high period of gun violence of the city. Those numbers are coming down, but they are still exceptionally high.”

His experience in the Portland Police Bureau’s TOD and FIT made Commander Crooker very familiar with all the programs available to track the gun violence.

“As I started my command, it became apparent that we’ve had some ‘shooting hotspots’ in outer East Portland that we needed to find a way to address – using these tracking programs.”

About a year before Commander Crooker was assigned to East Precinct, East Portland News covered several deadly shootings – including some in broad daylight – along NE Milton Street. East Portland News archive photo, March 2022

Milton Street: A case study in shots reduction
Having covered numerous shootings in a specific district, we asked, “Was one of those areas near NE 82nd Avenue of Roses and Milton Street in Madison South?”

The Commander responded, “Since you bring it up, yes, that had been one of the top ‘hotspots’ for shootings in outer East Portland – and yes, it was standing out as having exceptionally high shooting rates.

“We went to that area and worked to identify the conditions that were leading to crime there,” Crooker recalled. “We met with people at The Grotto, and with neighbors in the area, and we tried to figure out why there were so many shootings in the area.”

They started with addressing the many homeless camps thereabouts. “And, then we addressed what was clearly self-evident – open-air prostitution occurring on NE 82nd Avenue,” Crooker went on. “We reviewed every single shooting that occurred in that area – I spent a three-day weekend reading every single shooting report – which led to identifying the clear nexus between the human trafficking activity and the shootings.”

Because of low PPB staffing levels, he coordinated with the Bureau’s Human Trafficking Unit, Precinct command staff, and East Precinct district officers. “We decided we’d focus all of our resources and efforts on addressing the human trafficking in the area,” Crooker explained. “The shooting stopped immediately; I think within six months, we went down to just one shooting.”

Another “hotspot” for shootings has been around the TriMet MAX Light Rail Station along East Burnside Street and 122nd Avenue – like this daytime shooting we covered in October of 2023.

Focus on 122nd and E Burnside shootings
An area in the Hazelwood neighborhood, a few blocks around the TriMet MAX Light Rail Station along East Burnside Street and 122nd Avenue, was another “shooting hotspot” the commander discussed.

“Considering the shootings, when merged together, makes this a significant area,” Crooker said. “Again, I read through all the police reports about shootings in the area, and worked to identify the common factors.

“We are currently addressing those factors with our partners – such as at the SSCC – to try to expand the buffer [zone] around the Menlo Park Safe Rest Village. We’ve also reached out to housing and public service centers in the area to try to get some help to address some of the conditions there.

“We’re also cognizant that there is a relationship between the drug activity in the area and the shootings, and we’re working on that as well.”

Reducing vehicle theft
Along with shooting violence, Crooker mentioned that the number of stolen vehicles in East Portland also peaked about 2020.

“East Precinct has ‘led the charge’ in addressing stolen cars; not only by directly going on [planned “Stolen Vehicle Operations”] missions; but also, by identifying repeat offenders. We’ve gained the cooperation of the [Multnomah County] District Attorney’s Office, working hand-in-glove with them, to make sure that we have cases that will ‘stick’, and get prosecuted – and that has been very successful.

“Month, after month we’re seeing subsequent 25% and higher reductions in stolen vehicles, as a direct result of these missions,” Crooker said.

Before another crime reduction mission begins, Commander Crooker thanks participants for their efforts.

Through teamwork, getting positive results
He’ll not take personal credit for the successes of these missions. However, through Commander Crooker’s leadership, the statistical results are impressive. In 2023 alone in East Precinct, the teams:

Operated 19 missions
Resulting in 498 stops and 180 stolen vehicles recovered
The teams made 210 arrests, served 206 warrants and had 109 vehicles elude
Missions saw 155 vehicles towed

By working together with other law enforcement agencies, PPB East Precinct teams are apprehending and arresting suspected criminals, taking them of the street – at least, for a few hours.

Additional crime-reduction missions
In addition, under his command, East Precinct staff has been undertaking other missions – often in partnership with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the Port of Portland Police, and the Gresham Police. These include:

Retail Theft Reduction missions
Drug Spotting missions
Human Trafficking missions

“Everyone from the agencies and bureaus meet up here at East Precinct; we do the mission, and then go back to our other duties – all while we’re responding to 911 calls as fast as we can.”

He looks forward to meeting more community members, says PPB East Precinct Commander Crooker.

As time allows, Commander Crooker says he meets with community groups as much as he can. “It’s a really good idea, right now, to have someone actively representing your neighborhood – Neighborhood Association meetings, or Business Association meetings – who is in touch with the Portland Police.

“If you’re so inclined, reach out to schedule a meeting with me, or someone in East Precinct, so we can connect and start getting reengaged with your group or organization,” Crooker invited.

The best way to contact Commander Crooker by email, he said. “I respond to every email that comes to me at james.crooker@police.portlandoregon.gov. But remember that this is a public email address, so anything that’s received there is subject to public disclosure.”

© 2024 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™

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