- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

WEST LINN, Ore. (AP) - After circling the restaurants and bars along West Linn’s Willamette Falls Drive four times, Officer Jim Abeles spots a young guy driving away from a sports pub.

He notes the gray Toyota Yaris is going 33 mph in a 20-mph zone and follows the car for a mile until he flashes his patrol car’s lights and they both pull into a parking lot at Fields Bridge Park.

It’s dusk on a Friday. The driver, a 25-year-old man from Wilsonville, tells Abeles that he hasn’t had anything to drink. He later claims he had just one drink.

The officer - bald with a mustache and both arms covered in colorful tattoos - is a long way from his days as a software entrepreneur.

Three years ago, Abeles left his job as CEO of Portland-based Pre1 at age 47 to pursue a near 30-year dream of becoming a cop.

Now 50, Abeles said he’s glad he no longer has to ask himself “what if.”

He was just named the state’s top intoxicated driving enforcement officer. He made 65 arrests of impaired drivers in 2014, one more than all the other two-dozen officers in West Linn’s patrol division combined.

“It might sound corny, but it’s really about making a difference for me,” he said. “Life is just so short, and I really felt like doing something to try and have a positive impact. I was doing a little bit of that in my white-collar job, but I got so much more of that now and it’s so satisfying.”

Back at Fields Bridge Park, the driver steps out of the car to take field sobriety tests, leaving a friend inside. The smell of alcohol is pungent from at least 6 feet away.

Abeles tests how well the 25-year-old can follow a penlight with his eyes, walk in a straight line while making sure his toe and heel touch and balance on one leg.

The driver fails the first test, but appears to do well on the other two.

“I think you’ve had more than one beer to drink, and I think you know it, too,” Abeles tells the man, asking him to come clean.

The passenger in the Toyota lets Abeles know that the driver had three tall glasses of beer. Abeles and another officer arrest the driver and bring him to the police department.

___

While an art major at Portland’s Lewis & Clark College in the mid-1980s, Abeles went on a ride-along with a Portland police officer for a sociology class. From the back seat of a patrol car for eight hours straight, he observed how officers responded to calls in North Portland.

Seeing cops interact with people in a different way than what he saw on TV made an impression, Abeles said. He thought it could be a great way for him to help people himself.

But by the time he graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in art, he had other ambitions.

“It was the ‘80s,” he said. “I thought I wanted to be rich.”

He also wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who worked for most of his life in the newspaper industry in Chicago, where Abeles grew up.

For the next 11 years, Abeles worked as a manager in marketing, advertising and classifieds departments at the Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Bay Guardian and Willamette Week.

In 1999, he founded Pre1, a company that designs software to manage newspaper and magazine content. The business grew to about 15 employees and Abeles felt great satisfaction in creating a product and being his own boss.

But every once in a while, Abeles said, he thought back to his college ride-along and wondered if it was too late to become a cop.

Then Abeles bid on a ride-along with Portland police at an auction and won, said Kat Topaz, Abeles’ wife of 15 years.

He ended up joining Mike Stradley, a Portland gang enforcement officer now a West Linn lieutenant, on his rounds about five years ago.

The experience was just as exhilarating as it was more than two decades ago.

Abeles was “the last person who I would have thought wanted to be a cop,” his wife said. His background was in business, he enjoyed being able to create things and he had never fired a gun before, she recalled.

After going on another ride-along with the West Linn Police Department, Abeles began getting into shape and applying for police jobs.

Maybe he wouldn’t get hired by a police department, maybe he was too old to start training, he thought. But he at least had to try.

“I got to a certain point in my mid-40s when I thought, this is my last chance,” he said.

___

Abeles’ youngest child, now 8, supported his decision to become a cop. It was a tougher sell for the three older children, now 22, 20 and 18, he said, because of the danger.

All of his kids and his wife have since gone on ride-alongs with him. Being able to see him at work has helped ease their concerns, he said.

“It’s setting the best example for our kids,” his wife said. “He’s showing them that it’s never too late to follow what you love and to never give up.”

Mark Jockin, who co-owned Pre1 with Abeles and bought him out, said he was shocked when his business partner told him he was leaving to become a police officer.

But then Jockin went on a ride-along with Abeles and watched him handle a woman whose blood alcohol content turned out to be .13 percent.

Abeles’ demeanor kept the woman in relatively good spirits, Jockin said. She was giving Abeles parenting advice at one point after he arrested her.

“At first, seeing Jim out there made me think he was wearing a costume,” Jockin said. “But seeing him in the field eventually made sense. He commands respect from people without even trying.

“He was the same Jim, just doing a different job.”

___

Abeles looked for a police job for about a year and was hired by the West Linn Police Department in March 2012 after completing physical and written tests and other evaluations.

It would be another nine months of training, including four months spent at the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem, before he would go on patrol on his own.

Abeles was the oldest recruit in his graduating class at the academy. The average age of the 40 students was 28. Abeles had a roommate who was the same age as his oldest child.

Starting from the bottom again - and taking a pay cut from six figures as a CEO mostly working part time to nearly $50,000 as a police officer working full time - took an adjustment, he said.

He started as a patrol officer and recently became a traffic enforcement officer. He works a 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift from Thursday to Sunday.

Abeles gravitated to catching drunken drivers after seeing what a common problem they are. He also saw an opportunity to develop an expertise in an area that fascinated him.

At first, he could spot only the more obvious intoxicated drivers. But people who swerve all over the road are rare in West Linn, he said. Over time, he started looking for more subtle clues and patterns, such as speed or if a car touches the centerline.

When he stops a car and approaches a driver, Abeles makes note if the person is chewing gum or smoking a cigarette as well as how they respond to his directions and questions. The most common reply drunken drivers give him after he pulls them over: “I’m almost home.”

He estimates the average drunken driver he’s arrested has a blood alcohol level around .11 percent. His oldest DUII arrest was a 72-year-old retired anesthesiologist who had too much to drink at a restaurant after watching a Trail Blazers’ game.

Abeles said he sees himself continuing as a police officer until he’s at least 60 or until his supervisors tell him he can’t do the job anymore.

___

It’s back to Friday night and Abeles has brought the drunken driving suspect to the West Linn police station.

The two briefly converse in Spanish, and Abeles tells the man that he studied in Madrid during college 30 years ago. The driver blows a .15 on a breathalyzer.

Abeles cites the 25-year-old for driving under the influence of intoxicants, a misdemeanor.

As Abeles takes him to the Clackamas County Jail for the alcohol to wear off, he tells the driver that his driving wasn’t that bad for being nearly twice the legal limit. But his bloodshot gaze gave him away.

The young man is lucky he didn’t hurt himself, his passenger or anyone else, Abeles tells him.

“The eyes never lie,” Abeles says.

___

Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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