A screaming siren splits the silence. Emergency lights flash red, amber, and blindingly white. Traffic slows to a stop and people dressed in blue or in bulky yellow suits quickly spring into action to put out a fire, save a life, or apprehend a suspect. All too often each of us has heard the siren, seen the lights, or needed the expert services of a paramedic. To protect and to serve are the words that police officers, firefighters, and correction officers live by. It is what drew them to their professions; it is the reason they do what they do.
Almost since the beginning of city, county, and state government in the Northwest and elsewhere, police and fire-fighting positions have been held by white males. Today, in spite of active recruiting of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and women, the rosters of these units are still mostly filled by white males. So it is something of a surprise to see a non white in the uniform of a civil servant and even rarer to see a black Seventh-day Adventist as a police officer or a fire fighter.
Here we profile four Northwest African American Adventists who have made their careers in law enforcement and firefighting. They each see their jobs as a ministry, trying to make a difference in people’s lives. These people serve their communities and their church.
The Assistant Chief of Police
Derrick Foxworth is the assistant chief of police for the city of Portland. A lifelong Pentecostal Christian he said, “From the first day that I decided to become a police officer, I said, ‘Lord, I want to do Your will, I want to do Your work, and in doing so I want You to be manifested in everything that I do.’”
Derrick grew up in Portland, graduating from the University of Portland with a degree in marketing management in 1980. He was recruited by the police department and decided to become an officer, “to give back to the community that had given so much to me.”
During his 21-and-a-half years on the Portland police force, Derrick has worked at many jobs starting as a patrol officer in a precinct. His experience includes service in the traffic division, in the narcotics division as an undercover officer, and as the public information officer for the police bureau. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1994.
In 1996 he was again promoted, this time to captain in 1996, and was assigned to head the tactical operation division which included the gang enforcement team, special emergency reaction team (SWAT), and the explosive disposal unit. Later, he was assigned to the Northeast Precinct as one of five precinct commanders for the city, serving there for five years.
In June, 2002, he was promoted as one of four assistant police chiefs and today serves as head of the operations branch overseeing the five precincts and the traffic division which employs 742 people out of the 1,200 officers assigned to the police bureau.
It was during his assignment at the Northeast Precinct that he met Linda Loiseau, an Adventist church member, through a mutual friend.
Derrick and Linda dated for two years before their wedding, December 8, 2002. During this time Linda introduced him to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and he started attending church. Together they talked about the doctrines and, he studied the Bible with Sharon Church Pastor Dwight Haynes.
When he made the decision to marry Linda he also made the decision to be baptized. “It seemed natural to want to keep going to church together, to continue to have Bible studies, to want to have that same belief in God, to become involved in the same things,” Derrick said. “It was not a hard decision to make because I have always had a close relationship with God. I already believed in much of what the Adventist church believed.”
The Sabbath was not a problem for Derrick. “There was a little bit of transition—getting accustomed to it. But when you read the Bible, it makes it very clear on which day you are supposed to worship.” Derrick was baptized on November 30, 2002.
The Corrections Officer
Patty Boyd sits at a long console filled with illuminated buttons. Her eyes scan a bank of small video monitors and her fingers push the appropriate buttons. She works in Central Control at the King County Department of Adult Detention and in the resident areas when assigned to them.
Working at Central Control she is responsible for the security of the perimeter doors making sure she knows who is coming in and who is leaving. She controls the movement of the elevators and the doors, only operating them when she is sure of the identity of the people and where they want to go. She also monitors other emergencies and alerts the proper authorities.
“Today there was a fight between inmates on the tenth floor.” Patty related. “What they did in Central Control was to program the elevators to go to other floors, to pick up people and send them to help where ever the situation was.”
She has worked at the jail since 1981 and enjoys her job. Patty says having a love for people is one of the qualities needed to work at the jail. “There are many different personalities that come through the jail. When suspects are brought in they are extremely upset. They are upset because they know they have committed what they are accused of, and other times they are upset because they know they didn’t do it. They are ranting and raving and it requires a calming influence not to escalate them more than they are.”
She says that her faith as an Adventist Christian contributes to her success on the job. She treats people like she would want to be treated if she were wearing their shoes. “People look at me and wonder how I can be hard and firm with the inmates. I can be firm, but when I speak with the inmates I don’t speak in a demeaning way. I always address them with a Mr. or a Ms. I know that it is because of God’s grace in my life that I’ve been able to work there such a long time.”
The qualities that she uses at work, Patty puts to use at church as well serving as the head greeter and as the assistant head deaconess at the Emerald City Church. In the past she has served as the head deaconess but since her husband James is the head deacon, she smilingly says that one department head in the family is enough and she is happy in her roles.
A letter from an inmate sums up the work and service of Patty. In part, this person said, “Thank you for your words of encouragement and the love of Christ that I see in you. God spoke through you when you told me to take it one day at a time and let the Holy Spirit be my guide.”
He wears a smoke-stained yellow hardhat with a visor, drives a big red fire truck and is the envy of every kid who ever dreamed of being a fireman. Don Lewis is a firefighter and a paramedic serving with the Portland, Oregon, fire fighting force.
When they arrive at a fire, his first job is to get the pumps going so that the other firefighters can begin to fight the fire. Then he has only four minutes to get hooked up to a hydrant before the 600 gallon tank of water on the truck is used up.
A 24-year veteran firefighter, he enjoys going to work. He says, “I believe that the Lord has led in my decision to be a fire fighter, because I have the temperament to deal with death, dying, and emergencies.”
Safety is a primary concern in firefighting and training is important to being safe on the job. “We are so well trained that whenever I jump on a rig, I don’t think about it. I have a goal in mind and that is to do the best I can,” he said.
“We were at this fire and it was so hot it started burning around my ears and my wrists. I started to think I might not get out so I said a prayer. One day I was doing chest compression and I prayed while I was doing that. While it is my faith in God that sustains me you must do some practical things, too. You must educate and train yourself then Jesus calls those things back to your mind when you need them.”
Don Lewis not only serves residents of Portland as a firefighter but he also serves the members of the Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church as the head elder.
“Being the head elder is being the under shepherd working with the pastor. It is my responsibility along with the pastor to help this little flock get from Egypt to the Heavenly Canaan. It is a spiritual journey and I have to lead by example. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a shepherd/flock relationship and this makes me be more compassionate with the people. I’ve baptized folk, I’ve officiated at funerals, and I’m a part of everything that happens in the church.”
Don is the president of the Northwest Adventist African American Local Elders Federation (NAAALEF.) The main focus of this association is to assist the local churches in evangelism. Last November they accepted the challenge from church leadership to work for a 10% increase in Regional membership for 2003.
Working on a rotating schedule of 24 hours on and 48 hours off, Don takes vacation days on Sabbath, trading shifts with people who want other days off, and says he doesn’t have problems getting Sabbaths off.
Don is one of about 25 black firefighters in a force of 662 people and was a leader in establishing an apprenticeship program to help minorities and women get into the fire group. Recipient of several service awards, he has also participated in the Oregon Health Sciences University research program which studied the possibility of deploying heart defibrillators in the Portland area.
Committed to his God, his church, his community, and his job, Don believes in a practical religion and serves the people with whom he comes into contact.
Troy Price is a life-long Adventist. Born and raised in Chicago, he attended Chicago Seventh-day Adventist Academy from kindergarten through high school. He graduated from Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, with a degree in Psychology.
Today he is a detective in the Vancouver, Washington, police department assigned to the fraud, forgery, and internet crime unit. Troy and his partner Ed Hewitt are the only ones assigned there. Their job is to investigate everything that could be considered white collar crimes, like embezzlement, credit card fraud—anything from $2,000 to $800,000—and thefts.
“Regular patrol officers will go out and investigate crimes when people call in but if there is a protracted investigation they call us. If it meets our criteria then we will investigate it,” he said. “Just yesterday I served a search warrant on a case where a guy has written about seven-to-eight hundred bad checks around the Vancouver-Portland metro area. We wrote the search warrant, executed it, and then searched the premises to document and process the contents.”
Troy’s duties include being a trainer for the State of Washington Criminal Justice Training Center. There he trains law enforcement officers on issues relating to fraud, ID theft, writing search warrants, and working with informants.
Troy and his partner both share a Christian faith. He said, “In our office we have a plaque that quotes a New York City police captain from the early 1900s. He said, ‘Remember, we work for God.’ It’s our motto. What ever happens during the day, when we go out to eat or when we go out on a search warrant, we stop and have a word of prayer. We say, ‘God cover us, help us to go out and reach some people, make a change in some lives, and protect the public.’ Then we are ready to go.”
“As a Christian it is nice to have that assurance, that background, that faith. I don’t have to look at all the people that are doing all those things. I don’t have to wonder what is going on because I know what is going on and what is behind it. It’s the sin problem manifesting itself in people’s lives around the world and in our community. It’s always going to be with us. No matter what anyone says, it’s not getting better out there. The only thing that we can do is to constantly work to improve how we respond to the problems.”
There are 3 black officers on the Vancouver police force of 187 people. Troy was voted Officer of the Year by his peers for 2002. “For me, having the respect of my peers is important so I go out and try to do a good job,” he said. “It was nice to know that my work was appreciated.”
Troy is a deacon at the Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church in Portland. He feels that both jobs, his police job and his deacon job, are a ministry, helping to make a difference in people’s lives.