SALEM — Oregon State Police this month rolled out a new looking patrol car for Pride Month.
The 2019 Dodge Charger is among the 1,000 or so vehicles in the state police’s fleet and packs the standard issue police equipment ready for road work. But rather than black graphics on silver paint, the Pride car displays rainbow lettering and a rainbow stripe on either side.
Pride Month recognizes and celebrates the LGBTQ community, and the rainbow is a common pride symbol. Capt. Tim Fox, Oregon State Police spokesperson, said the car serves two purposes.
“First, OSP is competing with other Oregon police agencies to attract and recruit police officers,” he explained. “This is a tough market and we engage in scores of outreach efforts to show we are an inclusive and attractive employer. The patrol car graphics, like any other signage, promotional material or giveaways, is intended to be an ice breaker and invite conversation with the citizens we serve.”
Equally important, he continued, the state police “understands LGBTQ citizens (and those perceived to be LGBTQ) are regrettably over represented in bullying, harassment and hate crimes. This includes school children all the way up to adulthood. We know this harassment and hate crime victimization often goes under-reported by LGBTQ community members, as we often hear there is a distrust of law enforcement — because they feel we harbor bias against these citizens and won’t take their cases seriously.”
Oregon State Police with this car for this month, Fox said, hopes to “engage the LGBTQ community on a new level to show we are here for you and we are a resource for you. We will be attending events they organize, to show the agency is committed to inclusion and prevention of bias/hate crime.”
Alice Hepburn said state police sending that message is significant for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. She is president of Pendleton chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
“Most nations the police is so iconic,” she said, “and if the police have your back, that’s something special.”
She also said the rainbow display signals someone is an ally to LGBTQ folks, and that is not the case in all places. Police have too often been tools for harassing the community.
New York police almost 50 years ago raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in lower Manhattan. The raid set off a series of riots at the end of June 1969 in protest. June is Pride Month to commemorate those events. James O’Neill, police commissioner for New York City, apologized Thursday for the raid, a first for a department official.
The rainbow decals on a state police car, however, raised a red flag for Hermiston police Chief Jason Edmiston.
“We are not elected officials,” he said. “The last thing we should be doing is engaging in political issues.”
The Hermiston Police Department will continue to be neutral partners with community groups, Edmiston stressed, but social causes have become divisive, and police have enough to handle without jumping into certain circles. While the state police may receive some short-term political benefit from the car, he said, the long-term fallout could be problematic because this sets up a slippery slope.
Could the National Rifle Association, for example, sponsor a police car, Edmiston pondered, or would OSP have cars that recognize an atheist event?
“You can’t be a little bit in with political matters,” Edmiston said. “You’re either in or you’re out.”
Umatilla County Sheriff Terry Rowan didn’t want to weigh in on the matter, and Pendleton police Chief Stuart Roberts didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Fox said aside from negative comments on social media, state police has received “overwhelmingly positive” responses on the car. The law enforcement agency also issued this message about the car on social media:
“At the Oregon State Police, we want it ensure our citizens know we value all Oregonians and their safety. OSP’s workforce includes LGBTQ employees and they want it known that they are here and working hard to support the agency’s mission.
This is your Oregon State Police — achieving our agency mission of serving Oregon with a diverse workforce dedicated to the protection of people, property and natural resources.”
Fox also explained state police does not use a one-size-fits-all approach when engaging with the public but considers whether the opportunities fit with the agency’s values. OSP printed an American flag and MIA/ POW themed decals for veterans events, he said, and tries to connect with residents “at all levels and places, including parades, houses of worship, in schools, fairs or random gatherings that present opportunities for positive interactions.”
While car wraps and special event decals are fairly common recruiting tools, Fox said this is a new engagement tool for Oregon State Police to gauge public response at patriotic and Pride events and see if there is an increase in applications from the events. He also said this is cost effective method of outreach.
“These are just stickers,” he said, “not permanent, and the minimal cost is a bargain for positive interaction with tens of thousands of citizens to show OSP is an inclusive employer and here to offer equal public safety protections for all our citizens.”
The lone Oregon State Police Pride car is in Salem at the Capitol for visitors to see. After the Pride events this month, the car goes back to Salem for standard decals. Then it hits the road for the next 140,000 miles, the state police target to retire vehicles.