Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

What might seem to some to be a mass exodus from the Baker City Police Department ranks as unfortunate timing for Baker City’s new police chief.

And in most cases, the officers who have left have moved into positions that fit their career goals, said Dustin Newman, who was named chief of police on June 19.

Newman, 42, replaced the retiring Wyn Lohner as the city’s top cop, which opened a position for a new lieutenant as well.

Patrol Officer Mike Durr, the first of three officers to leave Baker City in recent months, departed in April to return to John Day as that city’s police chief. Durr, a retired Oregon State Police officer and former member of the John Day Police Department, spent just five months in Baker City before the opportunity to return to John Day as a police administrator was offered to him.

Durr, 62, said he planned to work another four years in Baker City and then retire. But when he was offered the job of police chief in the town where he’s made his home for 33 years and where his wife, Pam, had remained, he felt compelled to take it.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, coming back to John Day,” Durr said. “The big advantage is I get to be with my wife.”

The two, who have been married for 43 years, have a close relationship, he said.

“I don’t have any ill feelings toward Baker,” Durr said in a telephone interview from his John Day office. “I absolutely had a ball over there, but in my off time, I missed my wife.”

He also felt an obligation to return to John Day.

“This is my community,” he said, adding that he hadn’t been in Baker City long enough to develop that strong tie there.

Daniel Paleyo, another former John Day police officer who moved to Baker City in 2014 after five years with the John Day department, left Baker City for a job with the Prineville Police Department, Newman said. Paleyo had served as a detective with the department for the past year.

And officer Ben Wray, who joined the Baker City Police in July of 2016, accepted a position as lieutenant of the Corrections Division of the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.

Durr describes the triple departure of the officers as “a perfect storm” that, in his experience, could have happened at any time depending on opportunities that come along for the officers.

“You can’t fault anyone for taking a position to better himself,” he said.

And though it is a stressful time for the Baker City Police Department, Newman said he is proud of how his officers are working to meet the challenge.

“I think we’re going to be all right,” he said. “It does put more stress on them right now, but they are stepping up.”

Baker City Manager Fred Warner Jr. added his support for the officers as well.

“The troops over there are really all banding together and working really hard to get through this busy summer season,” he said.

Newman said he will supplement the force by working some patrol shifts along with detective Jay Lohner, and sergeants Wayne Chastain and Mike Regan.

“Overtime definitely will be affected,” Newman said.

The department is awaiting background checks on two officers who will require four months at the police academy before they are ready to start their careers with the Baker City Police.

Newman also is advertising for a new lieutenant and a new certified officer to join the force.

Warner said he’s hoping to find people who are a good fit for the community.

“We want to make very sure they are embedded in the community and in small rural community living,” he said.

“I do believe we’re on the upswing and we are going to work through these vacancies and came out stronger,” Warner said.

Newman expects to fill Paleyo’s detective position with an officer from inside the department once the staffing is completed.

Right now, he says he’s working to ensure that all shifts are covered and that his officers are getting the time off they need.

“My job is to make sure they have what they need to do the job the way they should be doing it,” Newman said.

To do that, his main focus will be on the health and wellness of his staff.

“There are things we can’t afford not to do,” he said.

See more in the July 16, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.