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Friday, June 5, 2015

Community celebrates historic moment, swearing in of first Somali American police officer in Oregon |

Community celebrates historic moment, swearing in of first Somali American police officer in Oregon |

As Khalid Ibrahim walked across the stage Thursday to accept his new Portland police badge, members of his Somali community shouted encouragement, clicked photos and smiled with pride.
"It's a victory, four years in the making. It's a historic moment,'' said Musse Olol, who chairs the Somali American Council of Oregon.
Ibrahim, 24, not only is the first Somali American officer in Portland, but the first to be hired in the state.
After the arrest of Mohamed Mohamud in November 2010 for trying to set off a bomb at the holiday tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, members of the Somali community approached police, the FBI and federal prosecutors with the hope of developing personal relationships.
"At that time, a bridge did not exist,'' Olol said.
That effort -- coupled with ongoing outreach by Portland patrol Officer Natasha Haunsperger, who as a refugee from war-torn Croatia felt a particular kinship with Portland's immigrants – helped improve police relations with many in the estimated 8,000-member Somali population in the metro area.
"This is a door opening for us,'' said Jamal Dar, who is active in the African Youth and Community Organization.
When Ibrahim came to the group's basketball tournament about two years ago and expressed interest in becoming an officer, it was quite unusual, Dar said.
"At the time, our community was resistant to be part of any government organization,'' he said.
So to see that Ibrahim persevered, broke that barrier and accomplished his dream is inspiring, and he'll be a model for other young Somalis, Dar said. Several Somali supporters who attended Thursday's ceremony said Ibrahim's hiring makes them feel as if they're now accepted as part of the Portland community.
Instead of hosting police seminars to educate the Somali community about the Police Bureau, Haunsperger and others decided first to hold what they called "listening sessions'' about once a month.
During a break at one Saturday afternoon session in a Northeast Portland elementary school nearly a year and a half ago, Ibrahim approached Haunsperger with his idea of becoming a Portland cop.
"This is my business card. Let's talk,'' she recalled telling him. She was immediately impressed, she said.
They later met at the Starbucks across from Central Precinct in downtown, and she learned more about the young man who came to Oregon with his family in 2006.
Ibrahim was born in Mogadishu in July 1990 and moved to Cairo with his family in 2001. He attended middle school in Egypt before immigrating to Portland. He ran track and field and graduated from Wilson High School before getting his bachelor's degree in criminology, with a minor in psychology, from Portland State University. At PSU, he was a member of the National Criminal Justice Honor Society.
While going to high school and taking university courses, Ibrahim worked at Portland International Airport, providing wheelchair and other services.
Tasha Pierce knew Ibrahim from high school and then worked for him at the airport. He was her supervisor, and she said he handled conflicts between coworkers well. "He'd separate both parties, and listen to each of their stories calmly,'' Pierce said. "He's going to do the community a lot of good.''
During his free time, he plays soccer with friends and cheers on the Chelsea Football Club. He speaks three languages: Somali, Arabic and English.
During the past year, he interned at the Police Bureau, helping compile human trafficking data. Haunsperger became his mentor and bureau recruiter Tim Evans helped encourage him.
"I see a little bit of myself in him,'' Haunsperger said. "He doesn't have a pedigree. He's from a refugee family that's been distrustful of police, yet he had the courage and vision to break that cycle.''
His parents, six sisters and brother attended the swearing-in ceremony. His sister, Soah Abdi, said their mother initially wanted him to go to school to become a nurse. But when it was clear that wasn't what he truly desired, she and the family supported his efforts to join the Police Bureau.
He'd talked about becoming an officer since he was 11, she said.
"We hope that he'll be an example, and others in our community will be encouraged to also protect and serve,'' she said.
Data released by Portland's Office of Management and Finance show that 15 percent of sworn officers belonged to a racial or ethnic minority last fiscal year. Of 932 sworn officers, 6 percent were Asian, 4 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 1 percent American Indian and 1 percent of two or more races.
Ibrahim's father, Nur Abdi, put his arm around Ibrahim and smiled. "I'm so proud of my son,'' he said.
Ibrahim will start the basic police academy in June.
"It feels great,'' he said, before he was rushed away with other newly-sworn in Portland officers to receive an introduction and welcome from the bureau's personnel division.
As Ibrahim and his family and six other new recruits and their families cleared out of the Portland Building's auditorium, Haunsperger reflected on the occasion.
 "It was one of those really inspiring moments, to see communities we would never see in a city of Portland building participate at an event like this in the past,'' she said. "So to see women dressed differently in very bright African colors and mingling amongst people in blue uniforms and other city officials was the first step towards seeing we can work together as communities and become one eventually.''
 --Maxine Bernstein

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