Sergeants are backbone of command for OCPD

Swing shift started out pretty routinely for the Oregon City Police Department last Jan. 30. But the evening turned out to be anything but routine for Sgt. David Edwins.

Around 9:44 p.m., emergency dispatchers sent officers to investigate a report of an assault on Longview Way. Patrol officers already were rushing to the scene when they learned that someone had been stabbed.

Edwins, a 12-year OCPD veteran and the department’s newest sergeant, immediately wrapped his arms around the situation, though it seemed to be changing minute to minute.

“When we arrived, we found out two guys had been fighting at an apartment there,” Edwins said. “And blood was everywhere.”

After making sure there was no on-going threat of violence, Edwins called for a preliminary medical assessment, which determined a 23-year-old man had been stabbed in the carotid artery. He also directed officers to cordon off the scene while he alerted detectives.

As a crew from Clackamas Fire District 1 administered first aid, Edwins directed officers to interview the victim, a man identified as the “stabber” and other witnesses at the apartment.

While a Life Flight helicopter rushed the stabbing victim to OHSU Hospital, the other man – who had suffered relatively minor injuries -- was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

Meanwhile, officers found evidence that the stabbing occurred in self-defense. The case is under review by the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office.

“I had to look at the picture from every angle,” Edwins said. “Even if emotions are involved, you have to keep mind open to more facts that can come to light as you work the case.”

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By all accounts, Edwins handled the incident with the kind of calm, careful, decisive leadership OCPD expects from its sergeants. They are charged with supervising officers, enforcing the department’s policies and procedures while protecting the safety of officers, victims, witnesses and the community. To accomplish this, they are expected to exercise solid field judgment.

As the U.S. Army says, generals may run the war, but sergeants run the Army.

“The sergeant always has to be the cool head,” Police Chief Jim Band said. “Officers are dealing with what is right in front of them. But a sergeant’s view has to be broader – everything that is happening in the city all at once. They need to figure out where everybody needs to be and what they need to do.”

Two sergeants each are assigned to direct patrol functions on the day, swing and graveyard shifts. One sergeant oversees detectives while another sergeant coordinates administrative functions and training.

The result is seamless on-the-field quarterbacking to maintain public safety by enforcing the law and reflecting the values and priorities set by Chief Band and Capts. Shaun Davis and Bill Kler.

Detective Sgt. Justin Young said a sergeant has to be an engaged leader without being a micromanager or second-guesser. A sergeant, he said, should make field decisions, but not before getting all the information. A sergeant also should be able to judge which situations he or she can handle on the fly and which may trigger a call for more resources.

“Leadership is both a relationship and a partnership,” said Young, a 17-year law enforcement veteran and an OCPD sergeant for eight years. “You have to set an example. You have to earn trust and respect. And you have to hold employees accountable.”

Each sergeant begins his or her shift with a briefing from the sergeant supervising the previous shift. The sergeant coming on duty then knows what to watch for and what follow-ups may be necessary.

But a sergeant’s job is anything but a push-button affair. The challenges become apparent as soon as an officer is promoted to sergeant.

“On Friday, you were a peer with the other officers,” said swing-shift Sgt. Pat Lynch, a 21-year law enforcement veteran and an OCPD sergeant for five years. “But on Monday, you’re a supervisor – and you’re supervising people who are your friends.”

Administrative Sgt. Matthew Paschall agreed with Lynch, saying officers expect the buck to stop in his hands. While he felt well prepared to lead, at first he didn’t expect so many questions from the officers he supervises.

“The first thing is people automatically expect you to have all the answers for everything from Day One,” said Paschall, a 19-year law enforcement veteran and an OCPD sergeant for 11 years. “Honestly, I don’t have all the answers. I just have to make the best decisions I can, based on the best information I have.”

One special challenge for a sergeant is supervising older or longer-tenured officers. Graveyard Sgt. Greg Johnston, a 20-year law enforcement veteran and an OCPD sergeant for four years, said he had to learn how to restrain himself from plunging directly into calls and instead step back to grasp the big picture and let the officers do their jobs. He said he quickly realized that listening to more experienced officers could be an education in itself.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have had a lot off old-timers around to tell me about things,” Johnston said. “They have all this knowledge, all this experience on the street, so it really helps to listen to them. That’s not to say I will automatically do what they say. But it makes sense to hear their point of view first.”

Johnston also said sergeants have to tailor their approach to the individual officers they supervise. He said a sergeant has to know the officers’ strengths and weaknesses -- who needs close supervision and who works well without a lot of coaching.

Graveyard Sgt. Brad Edwards, a 20-year law enforcement veteran, has been an OCPD sergeant for three years and formerly served on the Clackamas County Major Crimes Team.

“I can remember very well a call we got in August 2013 of an assault at a residence on Hazelwood Drive,” said Edwards, who at the time was serving as acting sergeant. “At first, dispatch was unable to give me clear information as to whether it was a stabbing or a gunshot wound.”

When he arrived, Edwards decided against storming the home and instead called all on-duty officers to the scene. He then set up a team to carefully enter the home, where they found a 42-year-old man dead after being stabbed in the heart.

So Edwards ordered officers to secure the scene. He soon found evidence of a struggle outside the home, which apparently moved inside. After interviews, the victim’s roommate -- a domestic partner -- was arrested on suspicion of murder. He later was convicted of manslaughter in a plea agreement and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

“Afterward, we debriefed to get it all out on the table,” Edwards said. “I’m big on debriefing after a major incident: What went wrong? What went right? What can we learn?”

That kind of procedure helps to promote OCPD’s culture of continuing education. Older officers are expected to teach younger officers. Besides coaching the officers they supervise, sergeants are encouraged to share their experiences with one another.

Day-shift Sgt. Cynthia Gates, a 16-year-law enforcement veteran and an OCPD sergeant for six years, said she really benefited from being mentored since she was an officer by a couple of sergeants – Shaun Davis and Justin Young. She said Davis and Young not only helped her in her job as officer, but also taught her what it takes to be a sergeant.

“That’s why I try to be a mentor,” Gates said. “I want to keep learning because you never know it all,” Gates said. “I also want to pass along what I have learned so we can be the best supervisors we can be.”