Reforming the Police Department- Cornelius, OR

After an investigation revealed widespread division and inequities in the Cornelius Police Department, the city undertook an extensive public engagement process to find a way to move forward in a collaborative and inclusive manner.

Responding to Community Mistrust

Dissension within the Cornelius Police Department boiled over when a police officer hand-delivered a letter to the City Manager expressing his and others displeasure with the Police Chief at the time. An investigation was conducted, and results showed that the Latino/Hispanic community was generally frightened of the police and that there were management deficiencies and processes that were inequitable. 

After the investigation revealed a police department in chaos, the findings were generally well documented in the press. The regional newspaper, The Oregonian, sought court action to compel the city to release the findings. The former Police Chief and one of the police officers were decertified by the state agency that licenses police officers and fire fighters. The community was in full agreement that their Police Department had become dysfunctional, dangerous and an embarrassment.  The former Police Chief was placed on administrative leave and retired about three months after his initial removal as chief.

An Interim Police Chief was hired and immediately began assuring the community that their concerns would be addressed. He was heavily involved with the existing officers at the time and working to reform their outlook and style.  He also spent great energy working with leaders of the multiple Latino/Hispanic organizations to bridge the gaps that existed.

The Interim Chief discovered some issues while managing the department that had gone beyond the eye of the investigator, so he made the changes as needed. The Police Department immediately became more transparent under the interim leadership.  He also reached out to neighboring agencies to heal hurt feelings and pledged support for more joint efforts at community policing and preserving resources.  He was well liked by the Latino/Hispanic community and worked hard to mend fences and join hands.  However, after serving about six months, the Interim Police Chief concluded that a toxic environment still existed within the department and believed that the agency should be disbanded.  He concluded that it would be impossible to pull the two factions within the department together and made the decision to retire.

With the police department still in chaos, the city decided it was time to get the community’s feedback on the possibility of contracting with the Washington County Sheriff to provide police services. To foster citizen engagement on the issue, the city held three public meetings to gather community members input and comments. In addition, a Spanish-Speaking Town Hall was held that brought in over 100 members of the Latino community that unanimously voted in support of having a contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for police services.

In 2014, the City of Cornelius disbanded its police department and contracted with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to provide contracted police services to the city for three years, which was later extended by five years in 2017.  The current contract supports the state’s Sanctuary status, ensures the safety of all residents and has created more positive interactions between police officers and residents, particularly in the Latino community.

Engagement Strategies:

  • A thorough investigation involving both police officers and community members was conducted after the initial concerns were raised.
  • Three public meetings were held to hear community members input on the possibility of disbanding the police departments.
  • A Spanish-speaking town hall was held for over 100 members of the Latino/Hispanic community, to ensure that the community feedback being gathered was inclusive of the entire population. 


  • After extensive community feedback, a three-year contract was approved unanimously by the Mayor and City Council.
  • After several years of receiving contracted police services, the community is happy with the current state of community-police relations.
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