New to the job of police chief, Nick Hurley has 20 years of experience with the Corvallis Police Department (CPD). He left the department for a period to work at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) – the agency that certifies public safety employees. He returned to CPD as a captain in 2016, leading its professional standards division.
“Big Shoes to Fill”
Hurley spoke highly of former CPD Chief Jon Sassaman, who served the city for more than three decades. Hurley said he would continue the thorough hiring process that was established by Sassaman, which includes deep background checks of prospective candidates, but also takes a focused approach to recruiting diverse candidates.
Hurley said under his wing, the department would seek to maintain its accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). CALEA’s high standards are set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriff’s Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum.
CPD has been CALEA accredited since 1995, and is one of just three agencies in Oregon that is currently accredited by CALEA, the others being the Albany Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. In its most recent assessment, CPD was awarded the Meritorious Gold Standard in accreditation.
Black Live Matter & Local Protests
“Like any group that chooses to exercise the First Amendment, we at the Corvallis Police Department 100 percent support that,” Hurley said. “Why? Because I don’t want my voice squelched – I don’t want someone telling me I can’t speak.”
Hurley said CPD has taken a proactive but not highly visible approach to local demonstrations, which have been reported as peaceful though some have grown in size beyond what was expected. At one event, CPD moved in to divert traffic after the gathering spilled onto Fourth St. near Van Buren. That caused some anger on both sides, but Hurley said it was necessary to get involved in the interest of public safety.
Hurley said homelessness is a community issue that requires a coordinated response. He noted that instances of criminal and non-criminal activity bring police attention, but that solutions to the local homeless issue will come through collaboration between public agencies and social support organizations. Hurley said complaints of illegal camping are down since March, but enforcement for illegal camping is currently on hiatus.
“The reason we have contact with folks that are in the unhoused community is the behavior that draws us in,” he said. “People like to think that we’re out looking for [the homeless] or any type of group, and that’s simply not the case, but when we get calls of people arguing, fighting, swinging sticks around – all of those types of criminal behaviors that we would classify as disorderly conduct are going to get a police response.”
Missing Teen Ava Carey
A local teenager was missing for more than a week before CPD reported she was returned home and safe. Details around the ongoing investigation have been scarce at this point. Hurley said there is gap of time in which investigators and still trying to figure out what happened, and they are working leads. He applauded the widespread community effort to find the 16-year-old girl as well the work of the Major Crimes Team staff and the FBI, who deployed around 10 agents to assist locally.
“It wasn’t just a police issue,” Hurley said. “The community realized we have an endangered minor female that needs our resources, which is our eyes … it was a very large effort to find Ava and get her home.”
Hurley said there is no danger to the community related to the teen’s disappearance. He confirmed that a couple of people are being “looked at” for any role they might have had in the incident.
Mental Health/Crisis Intervention Training
Mental health and crisis response have emerged in recent decades as key aspects of law enforcement work. Officers and deputies in Oregon get some mental health training through the DPSST police academy, and CPD officers get another 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training locally. Hurley said there is a push for more mental health training as well as working alongside mental health experts in the field, citing the recent development of autism communication cards as an example.
“We’re always teaching [officers] how to use their verbal skills versus just a hands-on skill,” Hurley said. “I think we have a very successful record here in Corvallis.”
Image of Law Enforcement Nationwide
As his predecessor also told The Advocate, Hurley takes exception to lumping all law enforcement agencies into one. He said CPD has worked to build trust in the community and tried, though with some admitted hiccups, to stand above any outside comparison by adhering to high standards and continuing staff education, while also building community ties.
“We are not every department,” Hurley said. “We want you to join us and learn about us before you maybe make the assumption that we’re not doing the right things, and if you feel that there’s ways we can improve … please, get a hold of us, and come see us, and let us share with you what we do and how we do it.”