Jessica Brainard – CCJ Careers: Portland Police Officer
Listen as CCJO graduate, Jessica Brainard, describes her responsibilities and training as a Portland Police Officer.
Tom Hodge: Good morning and welcome to our webinar with Portland State University. My name is Tom Hodge. I am one of the enrollment advisors for the program. I will be your moderator for the day. Today we are going to be focusing on careers in criminal justice, specifically him in law enforcement training and the street patrol. We will be speaking with Officer Jessica Brainard. Just a few housekeeping rules in going over the agenda today. We will have a biography for our speaker. We will also have a description of the work she does, also the different career opportunities in the field. The first thing is that everybody is on mute so you won’t be able to actually voice your questions, but you can submit them through the webinar system via the email question box. Please try to keep your questions general and not really specific to your situation. I would also like to introduce Dr. Kris Henning. He is our department chair for the criminology and criminal justice program online.
Henning: Hello, everybody. We are going to go ahead and get started with the session. I want to introduce our guest today – Jessica Brainard. She has a bachelor’s of arts in criminology and criminal justice from Portland State University, which she earned in 2007. She also concurrently majored and got a bachelor’s of art in German. She has been a Portland police officer from 2008 on. I just wanted to welcome you, Jessica. Let’s go ahead and get started. The first question that I want us to address today is – what got you interested in this field?
Jessica: I had a general interest in law enforcement since about high school, and I never really narrowed it down. I continued my education, majoring in criminology and criminal justice in college. Throughout that time, I kept learning about different career and taking classes. I also realized that being an officer was kind of the best way to experience crime on the front lines of our criminal justice system, and get a variety of experience. I also – during college – volunteered as a sexual assault victim’s advocate for an organization called SARC – Sexual Assault Resource Center. That was a great experience. We had lots of training on sexual assault crimes and domestic violence, so I kind of got to work the victim’s side of what happened after those types of crime. Also for my internship, I was at the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit for Portland police Bureau. There again it was focused on domestic violence, and I got to kind of see the whole system – what victims go through in terms of courts and dealing with police and also the victim advocacy that is available to them. My experience before actually being a police officer was primarily with the victims. Although I enjoy that, I decided that I wanted to move on to work with a combination of the offenders and victims also.
Henning: Okay. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the training process that officers go through before they get to actually get out into the field and start working.
Jessica: Sure. First off, we are probationary officers for 18 months from the day we get hired until that period is over. Throughout the 18 months, we first began at our state Academy, which is the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. That lasts for months. It’s in Almsville, but it is right around the corner of Salem. We have to stay there during the week. You are allowed to go home on weekends, but you live in a dorm with one other person. You have all kinds of training with officers from all over the state. Primarily what you do is get trained in firearms, the Oregon statutes. This physical training, defensive tactic, and kind of a variety – also driving, which is very important. It was just a variety of all the things like basic skills. We would also do scenario training. It then after you graduate from there, it kind of depends on scheduling; but for my class we just had about two weeks on the streets with a field training officer. Right after those two weeks, we ended up going to the advanced academy, which is an academy that is specific to Portland police officers – and also a couple of Milwaukie officers, a smaller city to Portland, also attended our academy. I don’t know of any other agencies that have advanced academies. Most other state agencies – as soon as you’re done with the basic, you are on the street. That’s kind of it are the main basic training that you get before you are done. But with Portland, it’s a very unique city. We also have our own city code of laws, where there are a lot of things to learn. They also have different standards than that the Department of Public Safety, so we have to again – we are doing firearms and driving and defensive tactics and review of the laws. The other thing to talk about during the 18 months is that you are in the field training education program or FTEP. Basically there are five stages of training that you go through, and you are assigned a field training officer throughout the whole process. So phases zero last about two weeks, and your coach – the training officer – will do most of the work. That’s just kind of a time for you to observe and see everything that they do. Then it progresses through each phase, and each phase lasts about 4 to 5 weeks depending upon how your coach evaluates your progress. It could be shorter or longer. Basically each phase, you are responsible for a little bit more. Maybe phase 1 you are going to be driving, so you are responsible for geography. Maybe your coach is going to start making you be responsible for responding on the radio. You just progress until the last phase – or the second to last phase for the last two weeks, your coach is in plainclothes, meaning that they don’t wear a uniform. You wear a uniform. It’s also known as shadow space. On the street, you respond to everything without the help of your coach. Your coach is just observing. If you need additional backup or anything else, you are responsible for calling that. You don’t count your coach being on your call – being an officer under call. If you past that phase, then you are by yourself in phase 5. You are by yourself in your own car, but you still have your field training officer evaluating you, writing reports, and checking in with other officers on how you are doing on calls. Then once you – once the 18 month period is over, and you successfully complete both academies and the FTEP program, then you are a permanent employee. Basically after that, all officers are responsible for completing 84 hours for every three year period.
Henning: It sounds like a pretty extensive training process and that you get a lot of support throughout that. I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit now about your current position and duties.
Jessica: Sure. Right now I am a Portland police officer at North precinct. I work the afternoon shift, which is from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. I am a patrol officer, so I respond to 911 calls, nonemergency calls; and I will do self initiated activity. What that means is our calls are classified into different priorities. The priority E, which stands for emergency, one or two will be dispatched over the air from a dispatcher, and we just have to respond right away. If they are priority three, four, or five from our computer and our cars, we can check up on those and assign ourselves to the call. Depending on the priority, we have requirements for how long we can wait to pick up the call. Self initiated activity are things like traffic stops or subjects jobs or welfare checks that you see for people who might need some help on the street. On all calls, officers are responsible for making sure they have a disposition. There are lots of different ways that calls can be completed, and a lot of those ways include documenting the call somehow. That might be writing notes in the computer, or that might be writing an official report, or writing really good notes in your notebook.
Henning: I’m wondering if you could give us a sense of what your day to day activities look like. A lot of people have difficulty imagining on a day-to-day basis what a police officer does. I’m wondering if you can give us an idea of what a typical day would look like for you.
Jessica: Yeah. One very good thing about the job is the days are very typical, but there are certain things that you do every day. For me because I start work at four, a lot of times if I have court that day, it’ll be a 1:30. So my day might start out earlier downtown in the courthouse, and depending on when court ends, I make it to work a little late, or I might be able to be there on time. Usually what I do is I write up my precinct, I get dressed in a uniform, which takes about 15 minutes. There’s a lot of stuff that I have to get on. Then I will go outside and pick a patrol vehicle. I like to – I get there earlier than most people. I like to do that because then I have a better pick up the cars out there, and get one that is in better condition or has a full tank of gas. Then right at four o’clock is our roll call, which is where a sergeant briefs us on any event going on or any people of interest. It then we are also given our assignments of where we are working that day. Then we are released from roll call. The first thing you need to do is check if any day officers on the shift prior to our shift needs relief, or if you have any calls holding in your area of responsibility for your district. Then a lot of times at the shift change, you might have to – it’s a pretty busy time, so we will have higher priority calls, where we need to respond to those first. At this point it’s a good time to talk about district integrity, which is something very important to officers. What that means is we need to be constantly aware of what’s going on in your district and making sure that you complete all of the calls and anything going on in your district. That also might mean when you are thinking about doing self initiated activity, looking around to make sure other people around you are free or aren’t stuck on calls. That means if you are busy on something, making sure you’re listening to the radio and know where your area is, so maybe you can do whatever you can to clear out what you’re doing, so that you can go be in charge of what’s going on in your area. Then if you are not responding to calls or you’re not on a break, another thing that you will do throughout the shift is self initiated activity, which I kind of talked about – traffic stops, subject stops, responding to citizen concerns. A lot of times people will flag you down the street and want to talk to you about issues, or maybe you have some cases that you are working on that you want to do some follow-up on. It’s very easy to stay to see the whole shift. It’s very easy to be completely busy with calls, so that you don’t have any time for self initiated activities. Then of course what most police officers dislike is report writing. You have to make sure that everything you do – like I talked about earlier a little bit – is documented one way or another, especially if there was an arrest or a crime. It needs to be documented in our report.
Henning: It certainly sounds like a busy day today list of things to take care of. I’m wondering if you could tell us what you like best about this job for this career.
Jessica: It’s a great job. There are so many positive things about it. One great thing is everyone starts out on patrol, but there are lots of different assignments that are possible and opportunities for promotion. If you find an area that you are really interested in – maybe domestic violence or drugs – you have an opportunity to work in that area on the street in your free time, and kind of get what experience you need and think about where you want to work in the future. Another great thing is the freedom. You are in your own car. The bosses are really checking out what you are doing a must they are notified of some kind of problem, or if it is a very hot incident. You are also outside a lot, which in Portland can be good or bad, but it’s nice not to be stuck in an office or anything like that. You get to the out in the elements and walk the change of scenery. Another great thing is that you are always learning. I talked to people who have worked for over 20 years, and you always encounter something new that stretches your brain. It’s a great challenge. You always have the ability to apply so many training and skills to the situation, and that kind of goes along with another thing that I like – the nature of the job is very dynamic. The work is varied, and it can be very exciting – lots of things into your adrenaline going. Another great thing is even though there is the potential for lots of traumatic incidents to occur, and you see a lot of people in their worst moments, I think it really brings you close together with your coworkers because there are people that understand exactly because they have a lot of the same experiences. The pay is good. We have good benefits and good retirement – and also job security. There are some layoffs of officers. We haven’t had that in Portland yet, but there is always going to be crime. There’s always going to be a need for police. In that way, it’s very nice to know that you are always going to be needed.
Henning: What are some of the different skills or knowledge that you need going into this career?
Jessica: It’s a difficult job. You can’t just go into it thinking that all you get to do is go around and drive fast and that kind of thing. You need strong communication skills. You need to know how to not take things personally. The communication skills that are important are both written and oral. You have to be able to document everything that you do because everything officers do is highly scrutinized. Critical thinking is very important, being able to apply training to situations happening live. That’s all kind of training – physical training, training in law, and just being really creative in how to solve problems. Also the ability to multitask is very important. That’s something you can learn because in the beginning, that’s not something you get used to doing in our everyday lives as much as a police officer has to do. You are driving, talking on the radio, reading your call, thinking about all the things you need to do for your report, thinking about getting there safely, thinking about clearing an intersection, and making sure that you go home safely. There are a lot of things going on. Decision-making skills are very important. You need to be able to make a decision quickly and stick with it, and it needs to be the right decision for everyone involved, including yourself and coworkers and citizens. Another thing that’s very important that seems like it would go without saying his professionalism and maturity. We come across a lot of things on the job that are difficult, and it’s not – when you are a police officer, you have additional responsibility, and people are watching you all the time. That means on and off duty, you need to make sure that you conduct yourself in a very professional way. That kind of goes along with the police bureau’s values, which are – integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, excellence, and service. They are all qualities that are very important to this job.
Henning: The final question that we wanted to address before we turn to the questions from students and prospective students is the experience of women him on course. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what it’s like to be a woman in this career.
Jessica: Sure. As everyone probably knows, it’s predominantly males that work in law enforcement field. Just that can be a little bit difficult sometimes, being a minority. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about what I have to do differently than my male counterparts is probably due to my size. I feel that because of my size, people don’t automatically look at me and just listen to everything I say. I need to make sure the content of what I’m saying and my communication skills are adequate to get people’s respect. Women tend to be smaller, but that’s not to say – I have a lot of male coworkers who are also small, and do the same thing. I figure male coworkers also have great communication skills. That’s kind of one thing you need to remember because a lot of people will look at a woman and think “They are not very strong. They are not very tough.” You have to be on your feet a lot more because people try to take advantage of you. The percentage of female officers and local law enforcement have continued to rise, which is a good thing; although it’s still not anywhere near the amount of males. In 1987, according to the US Department of Justice, there were 7.6 percent women in law-enforcement; and as of 2007, that rate is that 12 percent. At the Portland Police Bureau, we are currently at 15 percent. There are some nights where on my shift, I’m the only woman working. The Bureau and I think law enforcement as a whole have come a long way as far as professionalism, and there aren’t the problems that there needs to be nearly as much. I’m sure people have them sometimes. Some other things that are interesting about female officers that I have seen in some studies are that they work differently, and those things are very positive for organizations. For example, they tend to have better interpersonal communication skills, and a lot of times that well de-escalate situations that could turn very bad. They also have lower rates of use of excessive force, lower rates of officer involved shootings, and lower rates to citizen complaints.
Henning: We are ready at this point to turn to some questions that are going to be submitted by our live webinar audience. I just want to remind everybody that you can submit a question through the webinar tool. The first question that’s come in is asking whether or not there are additional training requirements for female officers.
Jessica: No, nothing different. All requirements are the same as the males. They are all very doable. They are not outrageous requirements at all. Any officer who needs additional training can get it if they are struggling in an area, but it doesn’t matter if you are male or female.
Henning: I would like to remind everybody that if you have a question you would like to ask Officer Brainard, please send it through the webinar tool. The next question that we have is – can you give us an example of the most exciting call that you have ever been on?
Jessica: One that comes to mind for a time when there was a burglary suspect, and I just found that he had hidden a stolen computer in the floorboards. I was just about to arrest him and put him in handcuffs when he decided to run away. It turned into a chase, and then we had to do tactical apprehension, where we set up a perimeter with lots of police cars, and we had a canine. We ended up catching him. As he was trying to get away from me and I was trying to grab him, he broke my finger. It was so exciting that I had so much adrenaline rushing through my system that I worked the whole rest of the day because it happened at the beginning of my shift, and I didn’t even know my finger was broken until it was about time to go home, and it was curled up into a ball and purple.
Henning: The next question that we have is – who decides how many officers should be sent or dispatched to a specific call?
Jessica: If it’s priority E, one, or two – automatically, two officers – at least two officers will be dispatched. If it’s a call that is very dangerous, like someone has a gun or a big fight with 20 people, then most of the time, we make our own decision whether or not to go to calls. A lot of authors will automatically go themselves, or if the dispatcher is not seeing people catch on the computer, the dispatcher will prompt other officers to go.
Henning: Has there ever been a situation where your size has been a detriment?
Jessica: I can’t think of a specific time, but I have noticed in some of my other coworkers who look like bodybuilders or something – I’ve kind of marble that and thought “How nice would that be to just go everywhere and everyone listens to you without even speaking?” But like I say, I don’t think it is a detriment. Being smaller can also be something good in certain situations. It’s also good if people aren’t intimidated by you in situations.
Henning: You had mentioned earlier that your research showed that female officers sometimes have better communication skills and an ability to de-escalate tense situations. Can you give us an example of where you de-escalate at a situation verbally?
Jessica: Yeah. A lot of times – I feel like I do that every day, so it’s hard to think of one thing that sticks out. Usually how I do that is I treat people with respect, and I will do whatever I can for them – even if I’m taking them to jail. I will let them listen to a radio station on the way or something like that. I can think of one story where I was speaking with a suspect who had just presented a fraudulent check at a bank, and he told me a story that made no sense, and anybody would know that he is lying. I looked at him and said “Do you think I’m stupid?” He said “No,” and just started crying and told me the truth. I think sometimes if you just talk to them person-to-person like a real person,
a lot of times they realize that they are not going to get away with committing crimes.
Henning: What were the physical standards to start in your area – start policing or the Portland Police Bureau? Are there age limits that are placed on joining this career?
Jessica: There are age limits. I can’t think of it on the top of my head, but it’s on our Portland Police Bureau website. I want to say it’s around 45 or something. As far as the physical requirements, you have to pass a test called the ORPAT, which is an obstacle course that you have to run five times. It lasts around 4 to 5 minutes typically. You are supposed to finish it in under five minutes to pass. It’s important to be in good physical shape, but it’s not something that you have to be to fail or pass. It’s pretty simple standard requirement.
Henning: Was there any kind of training that you did to prepare for the PAC?
Jessica: Just making sure you are in shape in some way. That means doing something. I play soccer and run, so that helps me – lifting weights, anything that you do physical will prepare you for that.
Henning: Do you get to work with homicide investigations? Is that totally done outside your regular responsibility?
Jessica: Because on patrol you are always the initial responder to calls, you never know what call you are going to get that day. I have responded and then the first person to homicides before, but typically what happens is since we have a homicide division detective, we just have to lock down the crime scene and make sure it is preserved. Then we page out the homicide detective. What we will do a lot of times is an initial interviews of witnesses or getting just the initial information and securing the scene. After that, the homicide detectives are following up. We don’t have a big hand of man usually.
Henning: When you were preparing for the testing to get into law enforcement, was there anything that you read or search on the Internet that help to prepare for the testing?
Jessica: Yeah. For the written tests, there is a guide online with some practice questions and what kind of things you’re going to see in the test. That’s helpful to go through just to get an idea of what the written test is going to entail. There are also hiring workshops that the bureau puts on. There is one officer assigned to the personnel division will have a workshop talking about the whole process and answering the kinds of questions people may ask.
Henning: I’m wondering if there’s any sort of promotional benefit if you have a bachelor’s degree. Does it increase your base pay it off if you have a bachelor’s degree? Does it make it easier to get a job in law enforcement if you have a degree from a university?
Jessica: I do believe that that is something that the people in the hiring division or the personnel division are very interested in seeing. I think you will have a lot easier time if you have a degree getting hired. It’s not – I forgot the first part of the question. Promotions – that looks very good for promotions. You don’t get paid extra for having a bachelor’s degree at our organization. The different ones I’ve noticed in Oregon, there isn’t a set of pay for having a degree or speaking another language unfortunately at this time. Portland doesn’t have that.
Henning: What are some of the expectations once you are in law enforcement as an officer? What are some of the expectations in regard to education or experience in terms of advancing to higher levels in the agency?
Jessica: I think depending on where you want to go, most people who promote at all have at least a bachelors degree. If you are looking for a higher command level – like lieutenant or commander or the chief’s office – it’s definitely beneficial to have more educational experience and a higher degree and that kind of thing.
Henning: I’m going to remind students that if you have any additional questions to go ahead and submit them through the webinar series. We have time for just a couple more questions. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what influenced you to become a police officer.
Jessica: Like I said, it was just an area I knew I had an interest. Just growing up, crime always interested me and why people commit crimes and all those kind of questions. The more I learned about it at school and talking to people who were officers enter my volunteer experience, I realized that I felt very lucky to know where my interests were, and I just continued with my interests.
Henning: I know you mentioned you did an internship while you were an undergraduate student with us here in the criminology department. Can you give us a little sense of what you got of that internship experience the benefits of that?
Jessica: I think what I was most impressed with was how they have it set up in the domestic violence reduction unit. They have cubicles where they are split into teams with officers and advocates. It’s very beneficial the way they have it set up because all the resources are right there. Officers and advocates may have some different perspectives, but they work really well together. They are able to work on cases together. That’s very helpful. I know when I’m out on the street a lot of times I would like to speak with an advocate and make sure I get a victim hooked up with an advocate. I don’t really have that option right there. The best I can do it give them a phone number. If you are assigned to the unit, then you have the advocates right there in front of you. You can speak with them daily on different topics or different cases.
Henning: For people who are interested in a career in law enforcement, what would you recommend as an approach to getting a job in this area?
Jessica: I would recommend going on a ride along. That is a great way to kind of see firsthand what officers deal with, and what a typical day might be like – also just to be able to ask questions that come up during the day. I think along with making – I think getting an education is also very important so that your skills are already well defined to your communication skills and writing skills. People that struggle with that have a difficult time when they have to go to court, and they have to prove what happened in a certain incident. They are not good at communicating or documenting everything. They can have some major problems.
Henning: I’m sure that it varies quite a bit from department to department and agency to agency, but I’m wondering if, for example, the Portland Police Bureau offers educational benefits to employees. If you are an officer, do you get any kind of compensation for pursuing a bachelor’s degree?
Jessica: There is a program that they will pay part of your tuition, and it’s not very well advertised. I don’t really know why that is – maybe because people don’t do it very often. But it is possible if you are interested to try to talk to people and figure out how you might be able to get some assistance.
Henning: One of the things that applicants have to go through when they are in the application process for becoming a law enforcement officer is doing some oral interviews. I’m wondering if you can tell us anything that you did to prepare for the investigations.
Jessica: Those are kind of difficult to prepare for it because they’re always changing. I think that they are looking for is that you are able to make a decision and you have good reasoning behind your decision. One very important thing that you have to be able to know is that if you needed to use deadly force that you would be able to and a situation that requires that. There are some things that they might ask you that would be very difficult questions to answer if you’ve never been in that type of situation, but you need to be able to assure them that you feel that you would be able to do whatever it takes to protect yourself and others around you.
Henning: Have you ever found it difficult to manage your personal life as a female officer in a male oriented career?
Jessica: It’s hard to manage your personal life as an officer as it is because you’re so busy. When you are new, you have the worst schedule. It doesn’t match up with people on the normal 9 to 5 day schedule. I don’t really think that has anything to do with being a male or female. It is difficult, and a lot of officers go through many changes. You see things differently. You really need to be on top of emotional survival and making sure you have a normal healthy life outside of work.
Henning: What’s the process of becoming a detective in the police department?
Jessica: At our department, one would need to take the detectives exam. That is a written exam, and I think it also has an oral part two it also. It’s also a good thing to do if you are interested in that – is to talk to some detectives and make sure you do follow up on any cases you can in your spare time to show that you are thinking like a detective and following all kinds of leads you can an interview a people, trying to expand what information you might have on the original call.
Henning: I’m assuming that everybody that’s a detective has also been a street patrol officer first. Is that a necessary requirement to becoming a detective?
Henning: I think that is our last question. Thank you.
Jessica: Thank you.
Tom: I would like to thank everyone for attending our webinar, and I would also like to thank Officer Brainard taking time out of her schedule to come out here and provide this great information for everyone, and also Doctor Henning providing time from his schedule. As a reminder, classes start January 3. I would like to wish all of you very happy.