Thin Blue Lines
THIN BLUE LINES |
Portland Police Department
Click to see the Video Performances from the poetry reading at Longfellow Square.
It’s probably accurate to say that people rarely put the idea of police anywhere near the idea of poetry. They seem so very different—one internal, the other external; one private, the other quite public; one demanding a flexibility and openness, the other about force and control. But both rely on observation. Both require risk and an intuitive trust in one’s own judgment. And both demand courage, the kind needed to head into a scary place—metaphoric or actual—and not turn back.
But those weren’t the reasons that ten Portland police officers and detectives said "yes" to creating a police calendar by partnering with ten local poets & photographers. They said "yes" because they wanted to help raise money for Rob Johnsey’s family, an officer who died from an accidental gunshot wound. Partner activities included ride-alongs, time at headquarters, coffee, swapping stories, rhymes and editing suggestions.
At the first meeting between the poets and police officers, Lt. Sauschuck said, “I gotta be honest with you Marty, if you gave me a choice between writing a poem or fighting four guys at the same time in the street out there, I’d be fighting those four guys right now.” After a few seconds, poet Annie Finch sighed and said in a forlorn tone, “Me too. Writing poetry is hard."
The project was designed to address two key challenges that several months of interviews with the PPD had identified—their relationship with the public, and low morale. While not discounting the importance of issues like wages, benefits, job conditions and policies, Art At Work’s basic hypothesis is that it’s not only useful for people to make art about their work and lives, but that doing so increases their chances to come up with better solutions to longstanding problems.
Key goals for the calendar were that it would give the world a better picture of the work that police departments do and that it would raise money for Rob’s family and more projects like this one. And that it would result in the men and women of the Portland Police Department (PPD), sworn and civilian, having the value of their service reflected back to them by the people of Portland, which would then lead to even more positive outcomes in the future.
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