Marcus Larson/News-RegisterMcMinnville Police Chief Matt Scales was appointed chief by the City Council after serving as interim chief since July 2014.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
McMinnville Police Chief Matt Scales was appointed chief by the City Council after serving as interim chief since July 2014.
By Don Iler • News Editor • 

Scales settling in as police chief

Scales says he’s a “sports nut” and a big baseball fan. That makes sense, as he played baseball at the University of Portland, has kept up his love for the sport over the years, and has invested the time to coach his children.

The McMinnville City Council unanimously approved Scales’ hiring as chief in January, superseding the interim status he had held since Ron Noble retired to become head of campus safety at Linfield College at the end of June.

In the meantime, Scales led the department through a series of difficult months. Particularly stressful was the officer-involved shooting of Juventino Bermudez-Arenas, after Bermudez stabbed to death Linfield football player Parker Moore in November. 

Scales started his career in McMinnville and remained, moving up the ranks from patrol officer to sergeant, captain and now chief. He was hired in 1993, after graduating with a criminal justice degree.

He said the values of service and compassion inspired him to enter law enforcement.

“It’s different every day,” he said. “You’re outside, you help people and protect people that are less fortunate than others.”

Scales has worked in almost every part of the organization, from patrol, to investigation to administration. While he has enjoyed nearly every job, he most preferred the time he spent as a detective sergeant, he said, because it had so much impact.

“We would pull someone, more often than not a kid, out of a horrible, traumatic situation,” he said. “(We would) get them out of there and then hold those responsible accountable. You save lives in that position.”

But he felt it was time to move up in the department, so he applied for promotion to captain in 2010 and was successful. He said he had seen the impact  administrative leadership had on the department and wanted to be a part of the decisionmaking on policy, training and equipment.

“You learn from everyone’s mistakes and successes and try not to repeat the mistakes,” Scales said. “The day-to-day impact with citizens is not there, but affecting the process, bringing in new programs to help people, it provides lots of opportunities to stretch yourself.”

Scales says he has had opportunities to go to other organizations over the years, but he enjoys McMinnville and his family has roots here.

“It’s a blessing to be in Mac,” he said. “I could go to another organization, but not knowing what they’re about, their history and what got them there would put me at a disadvantage.”

While McMinnville still retains much of its small-town charm, it’s not the same place or same department Scales came to in 1993. 

“There is more serious crime, especially the last couple of years,” Scales said. “It’s not usual to have this many stabbings in the last few months.”

He said McMinnville is still a safe city. But he said it needs to prepare for growth once the bypass is completed.

He compared it to the time the MAX commuter rail system reached Gresham, where he grew up. He said the population exploded, and so, inevitably, did crime.

Scales said he has one eye on the future, so is looking into incorporation of body cameras and other new technology into policing. He said he’s expecting an increase in DUIs as marijuana becomes legal, and said the department has to adapt to the drug’s changed status with new training for patrol officers and their canine partners.

As Scales leads the department into the future, he doesn’t let the job define who he is.

“Being a police chief doesn’t define who I am,” he said. “I have friends who aren’t in law enforcement, and those who are.”

He said, “We can become jaded and cynical in the job with what we have to deal with.” Having outside friends helps him maintain perspective, he said.

While Scales no longer goes out on patrol, he remains available to citizens.

“I have an open door,” he said. “I am here and available. I am here for them.”


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