The Dalles Police Officer Chris Simonds came back from a conference last December with an idea he could quickly and easily implement: helping transients get replacement IDs.
The police chief liked it; the city council liked it; he got $1,000 of funding at the beginning of the year, and then he started offering to help people when he saw them.
But for some reason, the idea didn’t take off until just a few weeks ago, when the Mid-Columbia Community Action Council suggested to a client that they take Simonds up on his offer.
The client agreed, and from there it snowballed, and he’s been getting a request daily. By last Monday, he’d helped six people.
“It’s nice to see that we did this, and it wasn’t getting used, and suddenly — bam — people are taking us up on it,” he said.
His first “customer” was a woman who needed ID to get a job.
“One step of getting a homeless person back to a homed situation is they have to have ID to apply for benefits,” Simonds said.
He’s helped four people from California get replacement birth certificates. There are plenty of websites online that offer the service. He chose vitalrecordsonline.com.
He’s helped people at the police station, and he’s even pulled the mobile computer from his patrol car, taken it into the Community Meals site, and helped a few people that way.
He lets them type in the needed information, then pays the $69 fee with a city credit card. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.
“Not only is it not a time vampire but at the same time this is the whole point in the NEAT position, where I can devote time to this where patrol can’t,” he said.
Simonds is working as the department’s Neighborhood Enforcement Action Team (NEAT) officer. The job started with a focus on annoyance crimes and livability issues. It has since expanded to include helping people get from a life path that results in negative police contacts to one that reduces such contacts or allows for more positive ones.
Putting people on a better path helps reduce the behaviors that drive complaints, he said.
In his role as NEAT officer, he went to a problem-oriented policing conference last year. In that model of policing, “instead of going out and finding the criminal who’s doing crimes, find the source that’s drawing criminals to that area.”
He also learned of the homeless ID program.
A homeless person who has all their possessions in a backpack, and that gets stolen, they’ve lost their ID.
While he’s helped people get their replacement birth certificates, he’s also helped two people get a replacement Oregon ID. If they’re from Oregon and had an Oregon ID at one point, it’s a $40.50 fee for a replacement.
“I will drive people to the DMV, and I will wait until they’re done and pay the bill and drive them back. Customer service,” he said.
He’s lucked out both times he’s been at the DMV so far, saying there were only three people waiting when they got there.
Oregon IDs don’t require an address, he said. He said he saw an ID once that said milepost 81 Interstate 84 eastbound.
He doesn’t just stop at an Oregon ID. “If they’re eligible for a driver’s license, then that’s what we’ll buy them.” Unfortunately, many transients have suspended licenses.
Simonds is enjoying his new role as a NEAT officer. “It is a great opportunity to get away from the patrol activities that I’ve been doing for 12-plus years, and instead of taking the daily calls that come through I can devote much more time to resolving community issues.”
He said, “A lot of us get into this business to help, and typically over the years we do a lot more enforcement, and this position enables us to do a lot more helping than enforcement.”
He lauds the value to society in reaching out to help the homeless. “Helping them helps all of us in the end, right?”