Jerry Moore, Salem police chief, addresses protesters at the March for Floyd proceedings at the Capitol on Saturday, June 6. Moore was among the first speakers for an event that stretched on for hours. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
There’s a moment in Jerry Moore’s life that he returns to, standing with his father, Larry, at a stadium watching an Oregon State University Beavers game and telling him the news that he had gotten the job as police chief in Salem.
“I said: ‘Dad, I got it,’” Moore said, eyes welling as he told the story.
He said he’ll never forget his father’s reaction, proud of a son he had been supportive of his entire life and a pride that Moore would extend to his own two sons.
It’s been 15 years since that Beaver game and now Moore, 66, is preparing to leave his post at the end of November, closing a 43-year career in law enforcement.
The native Salemite is well known around town, attending McNary High School and the Oregon College of Education, now Western Oregon University. Despite his college affiliations, most describe him as an avid Beavers fan.
Skip Miller, deputy police chief, said the Salem Police Department’s stated values – honor, integrity and service – track with other departments across the country. But Moore was adamant that the department include one additional value: compassion.
“Compassion is something we all should have but you do not see a lot of police values where you see that written,” he said.
Miller said he sees that compassion on display daily, as he watches Moore looking at situations that would frustrate others and reframing them to understand a different point of view.
He described Moore’s style of leadership as collaborative, seeking out discussion on decisions before they’re made.
Moore has built the department on the guiding principle that building relationships are key.
“This world revolves around relationships and if we don’t have relationships with individuals or with a community, we are not going to be successful. And I’ve tried to impart that to my folks my whole career,” Moore said.
He said people will follow leaders because they believe in them and trust them.
“I’ve tried to do the right thing. I’ve tried to make the right decisions. I’ve tried to be fair, and I think good leaders do that,” Moore said.
He likes to say all the easy decisions at the department get made somewhere else.
Moore announced his retirement at the end of 2019 but stayed with the department until the city could find his replacement and the new police station was finished. He said the intervening year was the most difficult in his decades of policing.
In June, Moore released a video statement in response to a viral video of an officer telling an armed group how to avoid a recently imposed curfew during the racial justice protests this summer. The video and the resulting backlash pushed Moore to publicly declare his officers weren’t white supremacists, defending against accusations hurled at the department.
“This last year with homeless issues and Covid and protests, that certainly stands out. It has not been an easy year,” Moore said. “It hasn’t been an easy year for law enforcement, but we’ve done our best and I’ve done my best to try and be fair and to try to take care of our community that way,” he said.
Scotty Nowning, president of the Salem Police Employees Union, said Moore’s institutional knowledge and historical perspective of the police department will be hard to replace.
“He’s a super kind person, somebody you could see being your buddy. Pretty much everyone says that,” he said.
City Manager Steve Powers described Moore as a person with integrity. He said he’s had a trusting relationship with Moore, dealing with challenges wrought by the public health crisis and racial justice protests.
Powers said Moore leaves behind a legacy of service to Salem.
“It was always about the department, about the community, about the city. And it was never about Jerry,” he said. “That didn’t start when he became chief. He always puts others ahead of him.”
Looking ahead, Moore said the nation is grappling with how police departments should function.
“Policing in America is probably going to change. But through all that change the reason we still exist is to make people feel safe and to keep the community safe. So, I don’t know if that will ever change,” he said.
He said he wished he could have been more successful in diversifying the Salem police force, which is largely made up of white men.
Of 189 sworn officers, 173 are white, 18 are women, 15 are Hispanic, one is Black, and one is American Indian.
“Now, that’s on us. But that’s on the community as well, because we’re at the mercy of who applies. And we’re at the mercy of how attractive we make, not only the police department, but a city and a community attractive to applicants,” he said.
Moore is being replaced by Trevor Womack of Stockton. Womack starts Dec. 8.
In a meeting with the new chief, Moore said he was fortunate he grew up in Salem and knows a lot of people in the community.
“I’m a police officer in this town but I’ve also been part of this community my whole life. I grew up here, so I had relationships far and wide. It didn’t have anything to do with police work. Yet people knew I was a police officer. So certainly, that helped me over the years because people knew me as a parent, as a guy with kids in school, as a coach, as a neighbor, as a high school student here,” he said. “So, I mean I’ve got a lot of things going for me that Trevor won’t have going for him.”
Moore stressed to Womack that he needs to get to know the community and develop the relationships that have been so key to Moore’s success.
Mayor Chuck Bennett has known Moore for the better part of two decades and said he’s “just a really nice guy.”
“He reflects what this community is all about and what this community expects from its police department,” he said.
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