WHEN YOU THINK of the Portland Police Bureau, what comes to mind? People on horseback and Segway, riding around downtown patrolling for drug-use and public urination? Officers slowly walking up and down the Springwater Corridor Trail escorting homeless campers away from areas of public use? Or the hundreds of encounters, sometimes fatal, over the past few decades between officers and mentally disabled Portlanders on the street, something our police are known particularly for handling poorly?
The Oregon Historical Society would like to suggest an alternative association: the glockenspiel. As the elaborately titled exhibit, “The Portland Police Historical Society: Preserving the History and Honoring the Service of Portland Law-Enforcement Officers, 1851 – Present” cares to explain in its very own decorated placard, the Portland Police proudly had a glockenspiel quartet beginning in 1939 that would play for their fellow officers. This joint exhibit with the Portland Police Museum on display until Feb. 5, 2017, highlights all of the musical accomplishments by officers throughout the years, such as the Highland Guard bagpipe players and the House Band that was tragically put on pause while almost all members left to fight in World War I.
Maybe to highlight just how quirky the wacky world of Portland policing has been, or just to gain popular support for a bureau that has suffered from so much bad publicity over the years, as so many policing agencies have in America; this exhibit plays it safe. With placards that sound as if they were written by a PR person for the Portland Police, one cannot tell if they understand the irony. Every piece of information is displayed with the purpose of showing just a snapshot of some peculiar and superficial part of the bureau’s history dating back to 1851. From the first laws of the land when Portland was still a frontier town (“Don’t shoot guns in town, don’t be drunk and disorderly, don’t ride a horse or drive a wagon at a furious pace”) to the first sheriff/local saloon owner who arrested the protesting women of the temperance movement for “disorderly praying,” all the way to various buggy chases that used to take place in downtown Portland, every display is well-crafted to be careless.
The exhibit takes viewers all the way through to modern times, with a few dioramas of how cars, uniforms and badges have changed over the years. For those who would like to remember the better, zanier times of Portland-past or for those who honestly do not believe there is anything more to the history of the Portland Police Bureau other than a glockenspiel, this glorified poster collection is for you. If you believe that there might be a little more to the story, it would be best to find an exhibit not curated by the police department itself instead. It still could be worth a trip to the historical society to see the first stop-light ever used at a downtown intersection, but be warned either way, that is as hard-hitting as it gets.
To see “Preserving the History and Honoring the Service of Portland Law-Enforcement Officers, 1851 – Present” visit the Oregon Historical Society at SW 2nd Avenue in downtown Portland. On disply from Sept. 12 – Feb. 5, 2017.