When Mike Fort retired as a lieutenant with the Portland Police Bureau, he figured he might find his way to another law enforcement agency at some point. For the north Clark County resident, an opportunity manifested in his own backyard.
Fort, who joined the Battle Ground Police Department as a lieutenant in March 2018, took the oath of office Friday as the department’s new police chief. He succeeds Bob Richardson, who retired the same day after nine years with the department and 40 years in law enforcement.
In Fort’s 26 years with the Portland Police Bureau, he worked with the Youth Services Division, Standards and Accountability Unit and as a member of the Rapid Response Team. He also served as patrol watch commander, worked in the traffic division’s motorcycle detail and strategized coverage of events in which bureau officers would be present.
The native Texan grew up on a farm and attended Texas A&M University. After moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1988, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Spanish from Western Oregon University.
Fort, who has lived in Clark County since 2004, graduated from the FBI National Academy, a professional course for law enforcement managers. He also earned a Graduate Certificate of Achievement in Criminal Justice Education from the University of Virginia in 2016.
Fort said that the FBI course is largely aimed at those who wish to acquire the necessary skills to become a police chief.
“I think I believed that there was more after the police bureau,” Fort said.
When Richardson announced his retirement in October, that moment arrived. Battle Ground City Manager Erin Erdman announced in a news release at the time that Fort, 56, would be promoted and that the lieutenant position would be temporarily unfilled.
“Chief Fort’s extensive knowledge, experience and proven leadership, along with the relationships he has developed in our community, prepare him well to serve in this new role,” Erdman said.
Three days before Fort took the oath, voters made a decision that is expected to provide the department a major boost.
Residents in the city and within current permanent Clark County Fire District 3 boundaries approved resolutions that will allow the fire district to annex the city into its coverage area next year. City officials have said revenue freed up by the annexation would be directed toward the department, which lost 11 percent of its force in the past decade despite a population growth of 25 percent. With more money, the department is expected to hire more officers who could be part of a traffic unit, a reimplemented K-9 program or investigate nonviolent crimes.
“That was a good message from the community that they respect the police and firefighters and they expect some services from us,” Fort said. “What it did was allow us to plan for the future.”
Fort also said he would like to expand community outreach efforts, a goal he has focused on since he entered the department. He said that while the department has built good relationships with businesses, schools and faith groups, he would like to make connections with other community organizations such as neighborhood groups.
“I want to foster a more open forum for community members to give input about the police department,” Fort said.