During the coming weeks, The Chronicle will feature a series of articles focused on officers and deputies who patrol across Columbia County. We hope the series will provide insight regarding those who put themselves in harm’s way in service to the community. A follow-up series featuring local fire and emergency personnel is in the planning stages.
Officer Joel Dale welcomes me by the door outside of the Scappoose Police Station. He brings me inside where I am introduced to Sergeant Phil Packineau, and we all chitchat about how their police department works and how the night most likely is going to be.
Since 2016, the Scappoose Police has been using first names when referring to officers in person and on nametags, to be informal and a part of the community.
Early on, I get the feeling that Scappoose can be a slow department, and I get told that nothing major is likely to happen, even if it is Saturday night. Joel gives me a quick tour of their office and explains what happens where. Soon after, we get in the patrol car and hit the road. It is already getting dark since it is February. We start with driving around to show our presence and to make sure everything looks normal. Our first traffic stop happens around 5:33 p.m.
We are driving down SW Em Watts Road towards highway 30 when a driver fails to stop before exiting the Grocery Outlet parking lot right in front of us. Joel explained to me right away what the driver did wrong and said we were going to conduct a traffic stop. We get in line behind the driver at the light, ready to follow him on Highway 30. The light turns green, we turn left, and once we are out of the intersection, Joel turns his lights and sirens on. The driver reacts immediately and pulls over at a safe place right off the highway. Joel gets out of his car to talk to the driver in front of us, and after a few minutes, he comes back with the driver’s license. He tells me that he asked the driver if he knew why he had been stopped. Joel said the driver thought it was because of his tags, but Joel said he explained to him why. The license was cleared through dispatch and Joel sent the driver off.
Joel did not always plan on becoming an officer. In college, he studied dietetics and nutrition, but he did work as a security guard. After college, he started working in retail at Target. He worked his way up to the executive level and worked as an investigator traveling between stores for six years. Joel said he has friends in Portland that are cops and that he decided to follow the same path as well, and he has now been a cop for three years. He was born and raised in St. Helens, and said that he went to high school with at least three other people working in law enforcement in Columbia County today.
We continue patrolling the streets. Joel said a lot of people wave to him when he is out after a little boy on the side of a street waved to him. There are also people that don’t like the cops, Joel said. One man yelled something after the patrol car when we drove by.
Joel has been married since high school. He has two kids and a third one in the plans. He is a big man who likes to workout in his free time, but he has a soft heart. He seems to really care about the people he interacts with.
Joel spots a traffic violation in a neighborhood behind Fred Meyers. It’s a van parked in the street blocking one lane so people have to drive around it to get by. There are two men with the car. Joel gets out and starts pushing the car together with the men to get it off the street. He comes back to the patrol car to get his phone to help him translate Spanish. Joel said the men’s battery went dead. With the car out of the way of traffic we leave the men who are waiting on help.
We continue driving around and end up parking in a parking lot to watch the highway traffic. Joel turns the headlights off and turns on the radar, pointing it towards the highway. A few miles over the speed limit doesn’t seem to bother Joel. While looking for vehicles speeding, Joel explains that officers take a radar class to also learn speed by just looking, and not only relying on the radar. Joel said that just showing the presence of police sometimes is an eye-opener for people and that it could make them slow down.
We conduct another traffic stop because a car was speeding – maybe 8-10 miles over the speed limit. The stop takes place in the parking lot of O’Reilly’s. After talking to the driver, Joel comes back to the patrol car. He said he doesn’t always give out citations and that he likes to educate through verbal education – depending on the “totality of the circumstances.” The driver was going to see a movie at the cinema, and luckily for him, the stop was right by the theater and quick.
During the ride-along Joel shows me the city limits of Scappoose, where the Scappoose police are in charge. The area seems smaller than what you would expect as a citizen. He said that calls outside of their limits are the Sheriff’s areas. He shows me where the line stops for areas to respond to – unless it is an emergency. He said they break up the city in northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast. The roads dividing the Scappoose Police’s patrol area are Highway 30 and Columbia Avenue.
Driving with Joel is like a toured guide of crimes. He tells me about past crashes if we drive by the scenes where they occurred. He points out things like a school bus at an RV-park that a lot of people called in tips about the bank robber in the afterhours of the robbery at US Bank in the end of January. The school bus was never relevant to the bank robbery and Joel laughs a little about it. Laughter seems to be a big part of the job as an officer. Joel said you kind of have to have a weird sense of humor because the job would be really draining if you were serious all the time.
We patrol the airport. Even though it is out of Scappoose Police limits they patrol it for security reasons. He drives up to the gate, punches in a code, and we go in to see if everything looks normal. In really dark areas, Joel will turn on his light over his side mirror to see better without getting out of the car.
We spot three adults with a carport to one of the garages open. It’s a truck with a trailer. Joel parks the car and walks over to talk to them. Always in a friendly manner he introduces himself and starts what seems like a casual conversation and not a straight-up confrontation as many people would expect. He checks their ID’s and the three men said they were working on an airplane. They had just taken the motor out. Joel said he always has to check it out because you never know what people are up to. The men check out fine and even invite Joel and the rest of the department for a ride if they want one once the small plane is fixed. We continue driving and get fast on the runway where Joel speeds up a little, just in case, before we head towards the airport’s exit.
We take the backstreets back towards the police station. Almost back at the office, we pass four people on the side of the street across from Skinny’s. It looks like a fight in progress and Joel makes a sharp turn around.
As it turns out, a call was dispatched about the same incident just 14 seconds after we spotted the possible fight. He rolls down his window to ask one of the people about what is going on.
A woman Joel is familiar with said she was punched, pointing towards two women walking away from the scene. The two women get in a car and start driving off through the parking lot of Pizza Vendor. Joel turns on his lights and sirens to stop the women from leaving the scene and he blocks an exit from the parking lot where the women are headed. Joel gets out of the car and gets the women to back up a little before he talks to both of them in front of the patrol car. Since two people are still at the scene where we first drove by, Joel asks for backup to help with interviews and the workload.
Watching from inside the car, since I am not allowed to get out unless I am told otherwise, I can hear parts of the conversations with the two women we stopped. All four people knew each other. Two had been married, one was a new girlfriend and the fourth one was one of the suspect’s sisters. One of the women was bleeding under her eye from the punch she took. Joel asked if she would like medical attention but she said no.
Both women were asked if they wanted to press charges of harassment against each other, but said no. Joel decided that both the women who “took a swing” were going to be transferred to jail for a book and release for disorderly conduct.
A witness at the Pizza Vendor said they had been very loud, screaming at each other with the f-word all over the place. The women got arrested for disorderly conduct because they were so loud, in the middle of the street in the early evening, close to a family restaurant only 100 feet away.
Joel is always informative about what he is thinking and what he is going to do before he takes any actions. Getting arrested seems therefore less scary than what I had imagined.
One of the women was handcuffed and put in the passenger seat behind me in the patrol car. The other woman was put in Officer Kolten Edwards’ patrol car. Driving to jail, the woman behind me kept on talking and crying. She apologized several times to Joel for what she had done.
We arrive at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Jail around 9 p.m. and we drove the car into a garage. The other patrol car is parked in front of us. First the officers have to take their guns off and lock them in before entering the jail.
Then, the women are escorted one at a time into separate holding cells, while the officers fill out paper work with their personal information and charges. I sit with Joel while he fills out his paperwork and one of the women starts singing “If Tomorrow Never Comes” by Garth Brooks - surprisingly good in her cell. Joel tells me that the officers sometimes ask the arrested people about what kind of music they like and then put it on in the patrol car as a way of calming them down on their way to jail.
As the women get taken out of their holding cells, one after the other, they both seem much more calm. They seem more reflective when chatting with the two officers to pass time. Both women are handed over to jail employees to get their picture and fingerprints taken. The woman who sang is given a compliment about her singing skills. Once handed over, the officers head back to Scappoose. This night, we were at the right place at the right time.
On the way back, Joel explains that if the fight had occurred on private property the women couldn’t have been arrested unless it was considered a domestic. It was not this evening because it was a man’s soon to be ex-wife and the man’s new girlfriend fighting. Joel said that on private property this would have been what police call “mutual combat.” Around 10:10 p.m. we are back in Scappoose and stop by Skinny’s to check if their surveillance camera picked up anything from the incident across the road. With little expectations, Joel gets confirmation that it didn’t.
We check on a vacant house where someone was arrested for burglary not long ago. Joel gets out of the car and walks around the house to check that doors are locked and nothing is missing. Joel has only seen two actual break-ins to cars in his career. He said that is because people leave their car-doors unlocked.
Joel said he tries to check out the whole city every shift and that he changes it up so people don’t notice a pattern. We also drive inside the gates of the elementary school to make sure it looks fine. Once, Joel caught some teenagers smoking inside one of the concealed parts of the playground set. We also check parks and inside public bathrooms where people sometimes tend to be.
Joel conducts a premise check on a house for someone who is on vacation. This is something citizens can request from their local police station. Again, everything checks out fine. We stop by Public Works so Joel can fill his tank with gas before we head back to the station, where we meet up with Kolten.
Right after midnight, both officers start typing up reports at the office. They bring their patrol car cameras inside to review footage and audio from incidents while typing to make sure they didn’t miss anything, and to get exact quotes included in their reports to get the stories straight. Joel and Kolten also discuss cases with each other and discuss how to type up the reports, while gently joking around to keep the mood up.
Kolten told me that people do a lot of dumb things and that fights like tonight are rare. Overall, Joel and Kolten think people in Scappoose are good. I asked them if they think all people are good and that they sometimes just make bad decisions… Joel said he believes that there is good and that there is evil.