En route to NorthWest Crossing, McConkey explains that she loves this job and never would have been happy in an office. After a rough childhood, she became a police officer to help people, namely children. A drunk driver killed her father when she was four, and her mother struggled with drugs. She’s been with the Bend Police Department since 2006 and is one of 11 female officers. The department has more than eight times that many men. They treat her like an equal, she said, and truth be told, she kind of prefers to work with men----—less drama.
We’re cruising through NorthWest Crossing with the windows down. There are few cars on the roads. We don’t hear or see anything. McConkey explains this is often the case with shots fired—either the reporting party heard something else instead, or a gun was fired but the event is impossible to trace by the time she can respond. When we scheduled, we thought this Sunday might be slow. “[But] sometimes people get sick of their families and go out drinking,” she said. “You just never know.” McConkey has a family—she married her high school sweetheart from Tillamook and has two children ages eight and 10. “It’s difficult to balance this job with family,” she says. “It was nice out today, I wanted to play with everyone.” Instead, she slept to get ready for her shift. “But my kids think my job is cool. They want to know what happened on duty.” She pauses. “I try to protect them.” Sometimes her kids ask why she wants to see some of the things she sees. “It’s not that you want to. It’s that you have to.”
A bicycle swerves down Harmon Avenue. McConkey flashes her lights; a guy with long hair leaps off his ride and stands still. She speaks with him, stays at a distance, but her body language is friendly. “He was really drunk,” she says lightly when she climbs back in. “Did you see the sticker on his forehead? It was a heart.” She smiles. “We can issue DUIIs on bicycles, but we’re not really going to pursue that unless they’re crashing into things or hurting others. I told him to walk his bike the rest of the way home.” Police officers work as social workers more than solve crimes, she says. A majority of work, especially during daytime hours, is responding to domestic and child custody disputes. BPD won’t move a child from one parent to another unless there’s a court order, but they still have to witness upset and confused children. McConkey finds this aspect of the job heartbreaking and frustrating, she says.
We troll behind Les Schwab Tires off Franklin Boulevard. The creepy dark has the hair on the back of my neck on end, but McConkey is unperturbed, driving slowly with the windows down, swinging the car’s broad searchlights past pallets, dumpsters, one seemingly abandoned car. BPD shifts are based on seniority, or “What your spouse tells you to work,” McConkey explains. “Night shifts are more fun. Calls aren’t stupid like ‘My girlfriend broke up with me and I want my stuff back’ or ‘My 12-year-old drank all the soda,’” she says. We cross Highway 97 at Stars Cabaret and head into a neighborhood I’ve never visited. Homes are small and rundown; stuff litters front yards. “I know I’ve become jaded,” she says. “Doing what we do can make you lose faith in humankind.”
Radio chatter crackles through the vehicle. A woman who has been pulled over claims to have been drinking all day and just drank a pint of whiskey en route to Bend from La Pine. Meanwhile, a teen has been reported missing, last heard from in Juniper Park. Allegedly he has a history of running away and hurting himself, maybe by cutting. We drive to the park and spend 45 minutes using searchlights while other officers scan on foot. In the park, we only find two kids making out in a minivan. The windows are fogged. She’s sitting on his lap. McConkey asks them if they’ve seen the missing kid. They haven’t. Eventually, he turns up back home, but we don’t find out the details. McConkey’s night continues, as is often the case, with stories left unfinished.
We take a trip to 911 dispatch, and hang out with five staff on duty. Their jurisdiction is wide, covering police, fire and emergency for all of Deschutes County. Emergency personnel mostly know each other; they often have been through ordeals together, like McConkey’s run in with a person wild on meth. In 2003, when McConkey still worked for the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Department, she was involved in the pursuit of a stolen car on Highway 97 driven by two men who later admitted a “three-day meth binge.” After they crashed the car in La Pine, one of them ran at her, claimed to have a gun and threatened to kill her. She fired. He was hit, but lived. McConkey then went through the court process both as a witness and as a possible suspect, but wasn’t charged. She describes the entire ordeal as harrowing. She was pregnant at the time and had a two-year-old daughter at home. “It was a real wake-up call for my husband,” says McConkey. The criminal later wrote her an apology letter from jail.
Someone has just been discovered breaking into cars in Broken Top. We leave dispatch in a hurry, doing 70 miles per hour on the parkway under a starry sky. It’s really fun. The alleged burglar is reported to be 50-years-old, wearing a plaid shirt, and on a bicycle. Because it’s slow tonight, four police cars show up at Broken Top. Everyone seems uncertain about how to get into the gated community or navigate its winding streets. Getting back out proves no less straightforward. We don’t find the alleged burglar.
On the off chance that the burglar headed west into Tetherow, we go there next. The road through this elite neighborhood is empty. Suddenly a car appears and zooms past. McConkey does a quick three-point turn and pursues. We catch him. She says, mostly to herself, “It’s going to be the paper guy, and he’s going to be a jerk about it.” She speaks to him for a moment, runs his plates and driver’s license, climbs back in the car. “Was it the paper guy?” I ask. “Yes,” she grins. “And was he a jerk about it?” “No.” She laughs. “I think I’m hungry.” McConkey drops me off at my house on her way back to the station, where she hopes to eat her dinner, fill out reports, talk shop with the guys, and wait out the night so she can go home to her family, kiss the kids on their way out the door to school, and climb into bed as the sun rises over Central Oregon. But it doesn’t turn out this way. After we part ways, she gets a suspicious death call—a stabbing McConkey later describes as a scene out of a horror movie that is eventually ruled a suicide. The very next night, she caught the Broken Top burglar, recognizing him on the street by the description from the night before. Just another day at work for one of Bend PD’s finest, female or otherwise.
Budget Blues: Police ask for more from City Council
The Bend Police Department will need more money if it is to continue providing services at current levels, Chief Jeff Sale told the Bend City Council in early May.
The agency’s call volume, one of the primary measurements of a department’s workload, has been increasing by about seven to nine percent each year, said Sale, but the city has budgeted increases of only two percent per year, he said. Sale said the department is looking for an additional $200,000 to $300,000 per year for the next five years.
Without that cash, programs will be cut back. Youth Enhancement Services, which is like diversion for young people who commit low level crimes like shop lifting and smoking, will be one of the first programs to go. That would result in the layoff of one staff person as early as this summer.
The department would also begin to deprioritize some investigations, such as property crime and theft under $100,000, and some credit card fraud, said Sale in his presentation to the council.
The Bend City Council is currently considering adjustments to the city’s biennial budget, said City Manager Eric King. The city is currently in the middle of its two-year cycle, but will adjust the budget as needed, he said.
Any decisions on the police budget requests are likely to be made early this summer. (EFM)