ERIN TIERNEY/THE CHRONICLE - Andrew Shearer was sworn in on March 28 as the new Springfield Police Chief.
SPRINGFIELD — The weather in the Willamette Valley is eagerly ushering in springtime— the crabapple trees are beginning to bloom, winter boots are finally staying dry, and change is in the air. Though, the weather isn’t the only shift being felt by Springfield leaders — a shift in police leadership is coming, too. On Monday March 28, the city of Springfield held a swearing-in ceremony for its newest police chief, Andrew Shearer.
The swearing-in ceremony was held in a crowded conference room in the Springfield Justice Building. The space was packed with spectators and supporters, all abuzz with the pageantry of the day. Officers flanked the walls, and more than a few jokes were cracked about none of them “having their back to the door,” even though we were arguably in the “safest room in all of Springfield.”
The ceremony featured remarks from city manager Nancy Newton and mayor Sean VanGordon, both whom thanked the officers present for their service, and touched on the importance of working alongside public safety stakeholders and the SPD to enhance community trust, transparency, and to foster a policing culture based on dignity, fairness, respect and accountability. The hunt for the city’s newest police chief began after the city announced the retirement of former chief Richard Lewis in June.
“I think we can all agree that simply enforcing the law is not enough,” Shearer said. “Safety without respect, safety without empathy, and safety without dignity is not safety.” He said that police “will not waver in the face of danger,” but will do so in a way that is “thoughtful” and “allows them to maintain a sense of dignity.”
Shearer has over 29 years of law enforcement experience, most recently as assistant chief of police with the city of Portland. He has received numerous commendations and awards during his service including Distinguished Service Medals, Unit Commendation Medals – including two with Valor – and the Achievement Medal.
“He is not only somebody who has a deep understanding and belief in law enforcement in this country, but also somebody willing to be open with people about the challenges of what 21st-century law enforcement looks like,” VanGordon said.
Mark Molina, entrepreneur and candidate for the Ward 5 Springfield City Council seat, said that in his conversations with minority communities in Beaverton where Shearer had previously served “everyone, man, woman, Muslim, Christian – you name it – spoke very highly of Chief Shearer.”
Molina added that the area he formerly served “was going through the same cultural crisis that we’re going through here in Springfield, and they spoke to how he inserted himself into hard conversations and made sure people were communicating and reaching common ground.”
Newton, responsible for hiring Shearer, said she gave him “full disclosure” when she asked him to serve as interim chief.
Policing in Springfield has a checkered past, with numerous lawsuits, political and racial tensions, not to mention the country-wide revaluation of police response tactics and use of force.
“With Chief Shearer coming in and with the changes that have been made … it will allow things to defuse and settle. It will put people into a place where we’re able to have conversations again. He has definitely brought that element to the table,” Molina said.
Newton agreed. “I asked him why he wanted to do this job. He told me he cared deeply .. that the professionalism of law enforcement mattered to him. That’s all I needed to hear. And that’s who he is at his core ... he was rock-solid,” she said.
Molina said that he is hopeful that better days are ahead for local policing and the community it serves – especially as it relates to racial tensions and intolerance he’s witnessed since moving to Springfield in 1986.
“I personally experienced a lot of racism, and until the incident with George Floyd, I was genuinely and honestly afraid to talk about it,” Molina said. “We cannot deny that it exists here. It may not be that extreme anymore, it may not be that ignited anymore, but there are still elements that remain,” he said.
Chief Shearer rounded out his speech with a quote from King Whitney Jr., reading: “Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful, it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”