On a recent ride along with Sgt. Liz Lawrence of the Bend Police Department, the integrity, honesty and caring nature of the officer comes across clear as day. Lawrence, who has been a part of Bend's police force for 25 years, makes herself available 24/7 to help people, leading BPD's mental health unit, called the Community Response Team. She is also a part of the Homeless Leadership Coalition, working on housing issues for the community's most vulnerable.
Lawrence graduated from Mountain View High School in 1981 and headed to college. Upon graduation, she applied at Bend Police Department, but was turned down with the advice to go get some life experience. At that time, only nine percent of police officers nationwide were women, but five years later, she returned and was hired. With awards for cross country jumping and arena jumping, horse patrol was one of her early duties. She has worn many hats since then, including motorcycle patrol, narcotics and now the new mental health unit.
Source Weekly: How did you decide to devote your career to serving with the Bend Police?
Sgt. Liz Lawrence: "When I was 13 a good friend of mine introduced me to the Explorer Program at Bend Police Department. I never looked back. I knew right then I loved this job and the wonderful police officers who took their time to mentor me much to my father's dismay. My father was really hoping I would follow in his footsteps as an electrical engineer, but instead I chose the life of a public servant."
SW: What are some of the ways that you get moral support from your family?
LL: "I get tremendous support from my husband and family. Also from my wonderful law enforcement family. Finding moral support from a spouse in this business takes a partner with great understanding and patience. Especially a little more difficult as a female in this line of work. Imagine working narcotics and getting calls from an informant in the middle of the night, or working cases that might keep you away from home for 24 hours, or trying to make plans and getting called out. I think motor school was as tough on my husband as it was on me!
"Luckily my husband, Vance Lawrence, is a sergeant at the Deschutes County Sheriffs Office. We have been married over 20 years. We have experienced it all together. The shootings, difficult cases involving children, suicides; we see people when they are victims of crimes, in the throes of addiction or are behaving at their absolute worst."
SW: How do you find balance in life?
LL: "Yes, balance, good question. Law enforcement in general can be mentally demanding. I found I wasn't truly prepared for how invested you become in your clients' lives. Not just them, but their families, too. Luckily we have great support with practitioners who we work with and the administration at the Police Department.
"My husband and I have other interests outside of law enforcement. Although we have some very close friends who share the same profession, we also have friends outside of our profession. My hobbies include horses, road biking and hanging out with our two very energetic Boxers. My husband likes golf; I have a set of clubs and sometimes I use them."
SW: Do you see yourself as a role model for women today?
LL: "I think it's important that women in this line of work support each other. Although I have had some great female role models during my career, I have also had wonderful supportive male role models as well.
"I really get a strong sense of pride when I see the potential in a new female recruit or a veteran lateral transfer. I have been able to serve in many different specialty units during my career and I don't take that for granted. My most significant accomplishment - still loving what I am doing and truly believing I make a difference."
Helping One Person at a Time
The Community Response Team that Lawrence leads involves working with community partners to help those in crisis. During a shift, the team responds to 911 crisis calls, suicidal subjects and calls involving any type of mental health issue.
They also proactively check on people when they are not in crisis to make sure they are getting the services they need, even providing transportation to medical or psychiatric appointments. Lawrence's team works closely with Parole and Probation, St. Charles Medical Center, Adult Protective Services, Central Oregon Council on Aging, Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, the Shepard's House and Bethlehem Inn.
"Unfortunately, jails become our largest health care providers," says Lawrence. "I was stunned to find out that Oregon has seen cuts of 40 to 60 percent of mental health resources, leaving the critically ill displaced and oftentimes homeless."
On the ride along with Lawrence, two hours in her presence brought to light the humanity behind the badge as nothing else could. Lawrence says those they help range in age from 6 to 96 and they have to know where to find the resources to assist each of them and their families.
Bend's police officers are now provided twice-yearly training on mental health awareness, leading to greater sensitivity throughout the department. Lawrence also credits Pacific Source for stepping in and providing additional free training for the team.