New Cottage Grove Police leadership paves way for rebuilding, rebranding
COTTAGE GROVE – After a tumultuous couple of years — from sudden resignations and investigations finding “numerous instances of wrongdoing” of the department’s leadership — the Cottage Grove Police Department is working to regain the community’s trust, beginning first where it once faltered — with those who lead the way.
Cory Chase, police chief
Lots of little kids want to be superheroes when they grow up, and to police chief Cory Chase, police officers definitely wore capes.
“I was always wondering what (the police) were doing. They were always just larger than life,” he said. “I don’t remember a time where I didn’t want to do this … it’s all I’ve talked about since I was little.”
Chase hoped to be CGPD’s police chief because he wanted to work at a smaller agency than the Port of Portland Police Department, which would allow him to work in a “close-knit community,” and to move back to Lane County. It was also the chance for Chase to lead an organization. His first day was Sept. 11, 2023.
“This organization was kind of at a crossroads, so it was an opportunity to come in, start putting in some different processes and programs, hire people into this department, and really build it, rebuild it, move us forward, and bring it into the industry’s best practices and some modern policing standards to make us a full- service professional police department,” he said.
Shawn Marsh, operations captain
Captain Shawn Marsh was actually retired prior to joining the CGPD team as operations captain May 1, 2023. He retired from Eugene Police Department in February 2022 but contracted back for 10 months, fully retiring in December 2022.
When former interim police chief Jeff Groth called him in March 2023, Marsh decided he couldn’t pass up the “very unique opportunity to completely rebuild the police department.”
Marsh’s main role is to supervise patrol. He said he’s eager to mentor and guide the department’s younger officers. Marsh is also in charge of personnel equipment and oversees the K9 program. He said it was “pure luck” getting to be Fuji’s handler.
“I joke that one, the reason Jeff gave her to me is so I wouldn’t leave, and two, so that people would actually talk to me,” Marsh said.
He gained experiences in different industries before becoming a police officer in his mid-20s – from working on Alaska fishing boats to being a scuba instructor in the Bahamas.
“I floundered for a long time. When I finally got into this, I realized this is what I’m meant to do, and it’s a great honor. It’s way different now than when I first started almost 30 years ago, but I like the challenge of it,” he said. “I never anticipated I’d be a captain anywhere or part of a command staff. I’ve had a lot of fun, and it’s such a great community, and having the ability to have an impact on it positively has been awesome.”
Randy Soulard, administrative captain
Randy Soulard was definitely given a cold welcome as administrative captain, considering an ice storm debilitated the town just shortly after his arrival, but his optimism is allowing him to make the best out of the situation.
His comfort zone is within administrative management, which makes his responsibilities – taking over property and evidence, the records division, dispatch, investigations, training, and internal affairs – perfect for him.
A California native, Soulard retired and moved to Cottage Grove in November 2023 to be closer to his family.
“I’ve been coming up here for a couple of years off and on, so Oregon’s been a second home for me. I’m in it for the long haul,” Soulard said. “I’m a father, and family is very important to me. My two sons live here, and my mom lived in Elkton for years and years with her husband. I had a lot of ties to this area, so it seemed like a good place to retire.”
Like Marsh, Soulard left retirement behind to work at CGPD, having started on Jan. 2.
“What we have going on here in Cottage Grove was exciting to me – just the fact that there was, I don’t want to call it a rebirth, but we’re in the midst of some really positive and big changes, and that’s not an opportunity that comes around very often where you can really feel like you’re contributing – and you can actually see the fruits of our labor.”
The reason he stayed in this career for so long is because “30 years later, it still means a lot to me to be part of the solution.”
“One of my little mantras that I’ve clung to over the years is, it sounds corny when I say it out loud: ‘If you can make a little bit of a difference, that little bit of positive difference every day, no matter how small it is, it’s a win. And if you take all those days and add them up, you can really make a lot of positive changes for people.’ There’s not a whole lot of professions that you can do that where you really feel like you’re helping people,” he said.
Transparency with Grovers
While Chase’s No. 1 priority within the department has been staffing, his No. 1 message to the community is to expect transparency from CGPD.
“We’re funded by the people that live in this community. For me, transparency has always been something that I would expect from elected leaders and public officials,” Chase said.
But that hasn’t always been the case in Cottage Grove.
Soulard said, as he was researching Cottage Grove, news articles would pop up about the former management team … and it wasn’t good news.
Former leadership cast a “dark cloud” on the department. In early 2023, documents around the sudden resignations of former Chief Scott Shepherd and Captain Conrad Gagner revealed instances of repeated racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, illegal detainment and inappropriate release of inmates, and a blatant failure to support outside law enforcement agencies, among other bad behavior.
It was also a battle for that public information to come to light. The City initially rejected The Chronicle’s public records requests relating to the investigation. The Chronicle then filed an appeal with District Attorney Patricia Perlow, who subsequently awarded the appeal, requiring the City to release the contents of the investigation of the duo. News of their “extremely unacceptable behavior” ended up making state and national headlines, and that dark cloud has followed the department since.
But today’s leadership strives for clearer skies.
“We want … to move past it and not let (the past) be the dark cloud that follows this department around. The people who work here and the community … deserve a better level of service from us,” Soulard said. “Between the three of us, we bring a lot to the table in trying to rebrand the department and set it on a more positive course.”
For Marsh, that begins with policy.
“There’s so many things to do and so many (policies and procedures) to change,” Marsh said. “Somebody will ask daily, ‘How do you do A, B, and C?’ It’s like, ‘What does the procedure say?’ ‘Oh, we don’t have one.’”
Chase said he is committed to demonstrating that today’s CGPD is open to acting with humility.
“There’s going to come times when we’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “Nobody’s perfect. … There’s going to be lessons to be learned and ways we can do it better next time. We have to be able to own that,” Chase said. “(We’re) not just giving the community information that makes (us) look good. (We’re) going to share it all with them.”
CGPD has 29 people on staff: 13 officers (two of which will take the roles as school resource officer and detective), six dispatchers, three patrol sergeants, two people who work in records and evidence, two captains, one police chief, one part-time community service officer, and one administrative assistant. Included in this tally are four vacancies which were very recently filled: a captain, two police officers, and a dispatcher.
However, CGPD still has six vacancies to fill — two patrol sergeants, two police officers, and two dispatchers to have a full staff of 35 people. Chase said CGPD is gearing up for another round of interviews to continue the hiring process. “Staffing has been probably the No. 1 priority for me since I’ve been here.”
As eager as he is to have a full staff, he made sure to commend the current team, stressing that “one of the important things is to recognize the employees that are still here” after CGPD’s public controversy.
“There was a lot of turnover, a lot of turmoil, and a lot of negative publicity about what happened with this police department. But when I got here, I was just so impressed with the work ethic of the people who are here and their commitment to this community,” Chase said.
“In this profession, even something that happens on the other side of the country can give our profession a black eye. We kind of all get painted with this broad brush sometimes, and I think they’ve felt some of that with the negativity around this police department.”
New technology, data collection
Chase is a data-driven person who hopes to begin effectively collecting statistics soon. He said CGPD doesn’t hasn’t done much data collection, “but that’s something I’m trying to put in place. “It’s important to him to “provide numbers that are just raw data” and “show the numbers for what they are and maybe put them in context, to show the public here’s really what we’re doing without trying to massage the numbers.”
Providing such data would increase transparency and also illuminate opportunities for improvement, he said.
“If we’re collecting more data from the officers in the field, it gives us feedback as to: Are we using the right equipment? Are we providing the proper training? Do we have the proper staff members?,” he said, noting that an updated online reporting system is on the horizon, but the department’s training for this was postponed due to the ice storm.
Another technological advancement heading to CGPD soon is for an after-action review software program which will increase data collection and data consistency across the department.
“If there’s a pursuit or something of that nature, or if we serve a search warrant at a residence, that’s an incident that we’re going to want to look at and do a review of. It’s just to let us know: Are we hitting the mark? Are we not? Where do we need to improve?” Chase said.
The vendor Chase wants to use for the software has not officially launched the program yet, but it should be available in February, and CGPD will become one of the first agencies to use this program.
Chase admitted this process is moving slower than he wants, but he’s staying focused on the long term.
“Patience has never been my strong suit … I’m the kind of person that likes to see results, and I like to move fast, but I’m playing the long game,” he said. “I’m not just looking to put some band-aids on things. I’m looking for what we need to set us up for success for the next five to 10 years. I’m being patient. I want to do it right.”
This new software will also help the department streamline its complaint and commendation process. Reports will automatically get routed from the officer to their supervisor who will do an initial review, which may require looking at body worn camera footage. They can leave notes on the report, and then it’ll then be passed up through the chain of command until it reaches Chase’s desk.
“This is so I have an eye on those things, and I can have the assurance that it’s been reviewed, and that we are following our policies, we’re following state law, and we’re using our tactics and our equipment appropriately,” he said.
Chase said his philosophy on how he does everything centers around constant progress.
“I tell people all the time that there’s no finish line. You’re never done. … We should always be in this loop where we’re studying what we do and making sure that it’s working right because there’s always ways that we can get better,” Chase said. “And the industry is constantly changing, so if we can find a better way or a more efficient way to do it, then that’s what we’re going to do.”