Tag Archives: Clackamas County

Time of My Life, Part 44: Recalling a time of trust

There once was a time when public officials trusted the media implicitly, they believed the media could have access to information and would know how to handle what they see.

That was long before the age of social media, the Internet and politicians who would label the media as “the enemy of the people.”

My first full-time job as reporter took me in the spring of 1977 from Portland, Ore., to a suburban community about 15 miles south of my hometown. I went to work for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, first as a sports writer and then as a general assignment reporter. The E-C was an afternoon newspaper; we published it Monday through Friday.

Given that it was a “p.m.” newspaper, our deadlines required us to report for work early in the day. My work days started before the sunrise, particularly after I moved from the sports desk and started working as a reporter.

My editor assigned me the task of going to police dispatchers’ offices each morning to collect the overnight police activity. The core of our circulation area concerned the Tri-Cities region: Oregon City, West Linn and Gladstone.

I would make the rounds with all three police departments, plus the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The dispatchers would allow me to look at the call logs and — upon request — I could look at the police officers’ reports they had filed on specific calls.

That’s right. The dispatcher would give this grimy reporter access to the cops’ reports. Some of them were amazingly graphic in nature. The reports weren’t, um, often not that well-written. I occasionally had to interpret the messages the officers intended to convey.

But these police reports often provided some amazing stories that I could report to our community. One strange incident stands out, even more than 40 years later. It involved an Oregon City Police Department report about an officer responding to a guy who got stuck in a telephone booth in the wee hours. This poor schlub had used the phone, but couldn’t jimmy the door open so he could exit. He called the cops and an officer — along with a firefighting crew — responded to pry the guy out of the booth.

I followed a simple and straightforward credo: I was able to earn the trust of the dispatchers simply by being faithful to my pledge to treat the information I received with discretion.

Indeed, I never felt like anyone’s “enemy.” Nor do today’s journalists.

Time of My Life, Part 12: Whom or whether to ‘endorse’

We have entered an era of enhanced distrust or mistrust of the media. That wasn’t always the case and I was proud to practice a craft that the public held in much higher regard than it does now.

We weren’t universally adored and admired, but come election time we had politicians lining up — quite literally — waiting for a chance to be interviewed by those of us who comprised an “editorial board.” They sought our “endorsement” for the campaign they were waging for whatever public office was on the line.

It’s a bit different these days. Politicians are forgoing those meetings with editorial boards. The most memorable “snub” occurred in 2010 when Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided he wouldn’t speak to any editorial boards in the state. He said he preferred to take his re-election message “directly to the people.” We got the message. What did we do? The Amarillo Globe-News decided to invite his Democratic Party challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White, to talk to us. White accepted. He came to Amarillo and sat down for an hour or so talking about issues affecting his campaign and the state.

The paper then recommended White for election as governor. We were far from alone. However, judging from the response we got from our readers, you would have thought we had just endorsed Satan himself. The anger was palpable based on the mail we got from our heavily Republican-leaning readership.

It didn’t matter. Gov. Perry was re-elected in a breeze. And he established a trend for others to follow:

Ernst follows Perry model: Who needs editorial boards?

One of the more fascinating after effects of these editorial endorsement interviews — particularly with candidates running for local offices — was that every election cycle proved to be a learning experience for me. I always learned something at some level about the community where I lived that I didn’t know. Whether it was in Oregon City, Ore., or Beaumont or Amarillo in Texas, I learned something new about the community.

I was able to interview candidates who were invested deeply in their communities and they would share their often heartfelt experiences growing up there. I tried to take something new away from those encounters. Did I learn all there was to know about Clackamas County, Ore., or the Golden Triangle or the High Plains region? No. However, I did know a lot more about all those areas when I left them than I knew going in.

I was privileged to meet a future president of the United States, U.S. senators, members of the U.S. House, movers and shakers of all stripes, men and women who wanted to serve on city councils, or county commissions, they sought legislative office, various statewide public offices, school boards . . . you name it, we met ’em.

It always was a privilege to get to know these individuals, even those who weren’t serious in their quest. Believe me, we encountered our share of those as well.

They were willing to subject themselves to the grilling we provided them. They withstood our sometimes-difficult questions. There is something good to be said about them, too — and the process in which we all took part.

Biker gang threat is quite real

The federal government is worried about biker gangs.

So the headline says on the link attached to this blog post.


Bikers erupted in a violent spasm in Waco over the weekend. Nine of them were killed in a fire fight at an adult club. Local police are investigating this bizarre explosion of violence.

News of this carnage brought to my mind a seriously distant name from my past. This individual warned in the 1970s about his fear of biker gangs and he said at the time he thought bikers could become the next great “organized crime threat” facing the United States.

John Renfro served as sheriff of Clackamas County, Ore., where I got my start in daily print journalism. I was covering policeĀ and other agencies for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, a suburban daily about 15 miles south of Portland. I met the sheriff when I moved from covering sports for the paper to working as a general assignment reporter.

He told me way back then of his concern over bikers. I cannot recall the precise quotes he uttered nearly 40 years ago. Suffice to say he believed that the county where he served as sheriff was a prime place for the bikers to congregate and to do serious harm to the community.

Clackamas County was far more rural than it is today. It still includes many many miles of secluded roads and highways criss-crossing through heavily forestedĀ territory. It offers good cover for gangs of individuals — be they bikers or other thugs — to engage in such activity as drug manufacturing and trafficking.

I can’t say today whether Sheriff Renfro’s projection is coming true.

Still, the federal government ought to be wary of these outfits and the fact — as the shootout in Waco has demonstrated — that they’re heavily armed and dangerous.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on the Waco incident: “‘This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys,’ said Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton. The Department of Justice has identified seven motorcycle clubs that it believes are highly structured criminal enterprises, many of them allied in one form or another against the best-known gang, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.”

“Highly structured criminal enterprise.” Isn’t that the same thing as organized criminals?


‘Routine traffic stop’ is never routine

Critiquing local media isn’t among my favorite things to do — Lord knows I made my share of mistakes over 37 years in daily print journalism — but a local news anchor committed an error I cannot let pass.

The 10 p.m. newscast led with a story about a drug bust on Interstate 40. Texas Department of Public Safety troopers pulled a vehicle over and — lo and behold — found a load of dope. Who knew, right?

The news anchor then uttered that time-honored phrase that a lot of young journalists use unwittingly. He referred to the incident as a “routine traffic stop.”

I now will make three points.

First, the news anchor isn’t a fresh-faced youngster looking to make his mark here before moving to a “larger market.” NewsChannel 10’s Walt Howard has been doing his job for at least as long as I’ve been in Amarillo, which has passed the 19-year mark.

Second, I’d bet the farm that the traffic stop in question wasn’t a real traffic stop at all. DPS troopers had a pretty idea what they had found when they pulled the vehicle over. It ain’t a coincidence, kids, that they found the drugs in the car. They either were profiling the occupants of the vehicle or they had a tip that the vehicle was coming through the area.

Third, and this is the most critical point of all, every police officer who’s ever worn a badge will tell you, “There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop.” I made that mistake once while writing a news story for a small paper where I worked in Oregon City, Ore. I referred to a traffic stop as “routine.” I got a call the next day from the late Bill Brooks, who at the time was chief deputy for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. He scolded me about the use of the term “routine” and reminded me of this fact: Any traffic stop has the potential for erupting into something far more serious and potentially tragic.

He implored me never to use that description again when reporting incidents involving police stopping motorists.

Lesson learned, Bill.