After declaring that their police department was doing a fine job a mere seven months ago, the Boardman city council is again hearing - and expressing - frustrations with their law enforcement officers.
Robert Hancock, part owner of Hancock Sandblast and Paint, spoke out during this week's city council meeting, saying the over-zealous police department has caused many of his contracted workers to flee Boardman in favor of Hermiston during their stay. To illustrate his point, Hancock said that in 2006, the company spent $21,000 at the Econolodge in Boardman, and last year only $949. And Hancock Sandblast and Paint still hires as many union workers as ever, if not more, Hancock said - they just prefer to stay in Hermiston.
"They feel like the police force is fishing for DUIIs," Hancock said. "That's the first thing they ask everyone, have you been drinking."
Hancock said that, while it made no difference to him where his workers spent the night, he felt compelled to speak up for other businesses in town and for Boardman's economy.
Councilor Christie Perry thanked Hancock for speaking, and said she had heard negative feedback concerning the police department herself.
"I am concerned about an attitude that is pervasive about how our police department is approaching people," she said. "It's an issue that we need to take a serious look at."
The city council formed an advisory committee a year ago to respond to complaints about the police department. They sent out a survey and rode along with officers. When the surveys came back - 60 people filled it out - and the councilors finished their report, it seemed Boardman may be turning over a new leaf with respect to its police force. Most survey respondents said the police were doing a fine job.
But some surveys ventured complaints. For example, some felt officers followed vehicles too closely and wrote too many tickets. Those are the same sort of complaints that are resurfacing now.
Martin Montes de Oca is one of the few that has filed a written complaint with the Boardman Police Department. The vast majority of complaints are verbal and go unrecorded by the police department. He has also translated at least five complaints for others in Boardman's Hispanic community.
Montes de Oca said he was driving on Main Street with his 10-year-old son, Kristian, in the early evening of January 26 when he was stopped by a Boardman Police Officer waving a flashlight. The officer, Shane Brandon, was directing traffic around a broken-down semi truck in the roadway.
Montes de Oca said he stopped and waited for his turn to pass. When Brandon waved the flashlight a second time, he said he assumed he was free to go and began to drive.
"He came over and just started yelling at me and saying, you better watch what you're doing and pay attention," Montes de Oca said. "And I said, don't yell at me."
Montes de Oca and Officer Brandon argued a little more, he recalled, and then Brandon said, "That's it - you're getting a ticket. Go park over by my patrol car."
Montes de Oca said Brandon made him wait until the truck was up and running - about 30 minutes - before he walked over and cited him for disobeying a police officer. The ticket turned out to be invalid because Brandon accidentally wrote the date wrong, but Montes de Oca said the memory still stings.
"How did I disobey him? In my letter I wrote that I speak English, Spanish and some Portuguese, but I don't speak flashlight," he said.
Montes de Oca said he, and many in Boardman's Hispanic community, feel that some police officers "flaunt their power and abuse the badge" when they are dealing with Latinos.
But, according to Sgt. Frank Rivera, the Boardman Police Department has a policy that specifically bans racial profiling.
"I worked with an agency that did racially profile, and it was completely evident," Rivera said, "I don't see that here."
Rivera said Boardman is a small, concentrated community, and the police force is the most visible city entity, which makes it a natural target for complaints.
If a higher ratio of Hispanics are stopped, it's not because of their ethnicity, he said - officers usually can't see people that well when they pull them over anyway - it's because they are breaking the law.
Rivera pointed out that some of the town's most recent newcomers, refugees from Bhutan, Iraq, and other places, are also running into trouble because they aren't fully aware of U.S. laws.
"There's an adjustment period," he said.
Rivera called the Officer Brandon/ Montes de Oca conflict a "miscommunication on both sides."
Rivera was unable to disclose how many people have complained to the police department in recent months. The chief, John Zeiler, wanted to run that information by the department's lawyer before he could release it, he said. Rivera said one officer has been disciplined in the last year for treating a citizen in an unacceptable way.