Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins

Ruthie Boyd's new job as the Baker City Police Department's civilian code enforcement officer is much like the story of the "Magic Porridge Pot."

As the story goes, once the pot was started, it would continue producing porridge until the magic words "stop little pot, stop" were uttered by the cook.

Although there is no magic involved, Boyd's work seemingly multiplies in much the same way with each contact she makes throughout the day.

"She goes out to address one issue and she comes back with two more," says Police Chief Wyn Lohner.

For example, Boyd recently was called to investigate a complaint of someone living in a camp trailer on a south Baker City property with no water or sewer service, which is prohibited by city ordinance. While investigating that issue, another neighbor pointed to a house across the street that has been abandoned for the past two years.

"There is garbage everywhere and cats galore," Boyd said.

She was to meet today with the property owner, who lives at Prineville, to begin addressing the problem.

Yet another neighbor pointed to a vehicle that had been parked across the street from his home for an extended period. Boyd marked the vehicle and the owner will have a specific time to move it or it will be towed.

Rather than simply citing the property owners and moving on, Boyd is charged with taking the time to explain the problems and to help resolve them, Lohner said.

The 20-year-old Boyd, who will graduate from the Eastern Oregon Regional Reserve Academy on June 7, began her new role with the Baker City Police Department on April 15.

She is a 2011 Baker High School graduate and also is employed as a reserve dispatcher with the Baker County 911 Consolidated Dispatch Center.

Boyd's father, Jerry Boyd, worked as a police officer in California before he and his family moved to Baker City in 2003. Jerry Boyd was head of operations at the dispatch center before retiring in 2011. He has since served as commander of the reserve academy, which serves police departments in Baker and Union counties and Nyssa.

Ruthie Boyd says she's interested in following in the footsteps of her dad, and an older brother, who also is a police officer.

She sees the code enforcement position as a way of getting her foot in the door.

"I want to do something career wise in law enforcement," she said. "This will help me get a feel for it and I can help out as much as possible."

She enjoys working at the dispatch center as well as in her new role and says she will see where they take her in the future.

"I'm young - I'm feeling it out as I go," she said.

She has taken some college classes through Blue Mountain Community College. She's studied childhood development and psychology, following the lead of her mother, Jay Boyd, who has adoctorate in psychology.

And she's also taken some criminal justice courses, but college is not a high priority for her at this point in her life, she said.

Lohner said the code enforcement slot was returned to a civilian position after being filled by sworn officers for the past few years. That system created problems for maintaining consistency in code enforcement because officers were often called away to focus on higher priority law enforcement work.

The personnel move drops the number of sworn officers to 14.

But there are several vacant slots at this point. Two officers, Craig Davidson and Josh Bryant, have resigned to pursue other interests, and a third, Colton Smith, will be at the academy until July 1.

Lohner said he's looking at applicants to fill the open positions. A fourth officer, Wayne Chastain, is on military assignment.

Davidson transferred to the position of detective in the past year, after serving for a time as the city's code enforcement officer. He also filled the school resource officer position. And Chastain had most recently served as code enforcement officer while also working patrol.

Lohner said that while community safety is always the department's first priority, the City Council and the community have expressed their desire to enforce city ordinances aimed at improving the community's livability.

"The only way to do that is with a civilian code enforcement officer," Lohner said. "Designating one person to dedicate time to codes will benefit the community at large."

And it will give the officers more time to focus on law enforcement rather than being pulled away to respond to complaints about dogs running at large or garbage piling up in a neighborhood, he said.

But it's a tall order for Boyd, Lohner admits.

"Four code enforcement officers could not keep up with the concerns in the community," he said.

And while the job can be rewarding as neighborhoods are cleaned up and animal complaints are addressed, dealing with property owners can also be challenging.

"Citizens will complain that you're not addressing their concerns and then there will be those who say you are challenging their personal property rights," Lohner said.

As a nonsworn code enforcement officer, Boyd will not wear the usual police uniform. Instead she will wear tan cargo pants and a dark monogrammed shirt. She will not carry a firearm, but she will be equipped with pepper spray, a taser and possibly an expandable baton to help her wrangle difficult animals, if necessary.

Boyd says she grew up with animals, including horses, dogs, cats, sheep, goats and donkeys and participated in 4-H and FFA.

"I'm partial to dogs," she said, adding that she's looking forward to helping reunite lost dogs with their owners and working with Best Friends of Baker, which rescues animals and finds homes in the community for dogs and cats.

To begin with, Boyd will respond to complaints and work to close open cases, Lohner said. After that, she will begin a systematic canvassing of the city to help gain compliance with the ordinances.

"The more problematic nuisances we're trying to address in a proactive manner," Lohner said. "We want to work with the community and property owners to affect change. Forced compliance is a last resort."

Once her training is completed, Boyd's hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with some flexibility built in to her schedule.

Community residents can contact her by calling the dispatch center at 541-523-6415 and leaving a message.

"We're excited about the opportunity for the community," Lohner said of Boyd's new role. "There are a lot of things we really want to work on."