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Portland Police Calendar

“This project’s already had a good impact on our department. The poems in the hallways, reading poems at roll calls – it’s brought us a different sense of who we are and what we do. Reports from the officers paired with artists were very positive, which I didn’t expect. And now we have this calendar with beautiful photographs and powerful poems about the work that our officers do every day. Now it’s up to the public.”
– Chief Joe Loughlin, Portland Police Dept.

Welcome to the first calendar of poems and photographs by Portland police officers, detectives, local poets and photographers.

It’s probably accurate to say that people rarely put the idea of police anywhere near the idea of poetry. They seem so very different – one internal, the other external; one private, the other quite public; one demanding a flexibility and openness, the other about force and control. But both rely on observation. Both require risk and an intuitive trust in ones own judgment. And both demand courage, the kind needed to head into a scary place – metaphoric or actual – and not turn back.

But those weren’t the reasons that five Portland police officers and detectives said ‘yes’ to becoming poetry partners with five poets. They said ‘yes’ because they wanted to help raise money for Rob Johnsey’s family. Sgt. Johnsey died by an accidental gun discharge in May of 2008. The same goes for the five officers who partnered with five photographers.

Poet/police partner activities included ride-alongs, time at headquarters, coffee, swapping stories, rhymes and editing suggestions. At the first meeting between the poets and police officers, Lt. Sauschuck said, “I gotta be honest with you Marty, if you gave me a choice between writing a poem or fighting four guys at the same time in the street out there, I’d be fighting those four guys right now.” A few seconds later, poet Annie Finch sighed and said in a forlorn tone, “Me too. Writing poetry is hard.”

Our hope for the calendar is that it would give the world a better picture of the work that police departments do and that it would raise money for Rob’s family and for more projects like this calendar. Another hope is that the men and women of the Portland Police Department (PPD), sworn and civilian, will see the value of their service reflected back to them by the people of Portland.

This project was designed to address two key challenges that PPD had identified last year – their relationship with the public, and low department morale. While not discounting the importance of issues like wages, benefits, job conditions and policies, AEI’s working hypothesis is that it’s useful for people to make art about their work and lives, and that doing so increases their chances to come up with better solutions to longstanding problems.

And for those of us who already call ourselves artists, this calendar is another way to bring our art into the world. Officer Eric McCusker said it best, “You gotta love the work to do the job.”

To read more about the Police Poetry Reading, please click here.

To read more about the Police Photography Exhibition, please click here.

To view the Calendar photos and more, please check out our Flickr.

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