To Protect And Serve

The given name of a pimp in Portland is “Royal.” He calls himself the “Royal Flush,” and has his symbol – the royal flush of cards – tattooed on the back of his girls, his prostitutes in what pimps call their “stable.” This is the kind of guy Josh Howery (G98) wants to put behind bars.

By Kim Felton

Not quite the same call Howery set out to answer when he enrolled at George Fox in 1994. Son of a pastor, Howery planned for the ministry himself, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies.

"I have a strong justice streak. That's a lot of what drives me in this job."

On-the-job training for campus security derailed his plan; he discovered he liked learning law, self-defense, and helping right the wrongs. “I have a strong justice streak,” he says. “That’s a lot of what drives me in this job.”

Justice drives him – and he, for the first eight years, drove Portland’s streets. Assigned to East Precinct as a patrol officer, he roamed 82nd Avenue, well known for the prostitutes who stroll the sidewalks, and quickly learned “everyone out there has a pimp.”

Some pimps are self-induced: The money or the drugs own the women. “But when we’re talking about juveniles, there’s always a bad guy. We need to deal with that; it’s someone taking advantage of other people. They’re making 12- to 15-year-old girls do stuff that would turn your stomach. That person is a monster.”

Riding with Howery one day, we turned right off 82nd, east onto Sandy Boulevard, and passed a bus stop where two teenage girls waited. Howery turned the car around for a better look. I missed whatever he saw.

“School isn’t out yet,” he said. “Those girls have no business at the bus stop. See the van parked behind them, two men in it?”

But Howery didn’t stop. He’s a plain clothes officer now, driving a Toyota, not a patrol car, and had no backup nearby.

Last October Howery moved from East Precinct to Central Precinct, in downtown Portland. He and his partner comb the Internet, looking for the young girls. They set up dates – and then take the girls in for questioning. It isn’t about busting the girls; it’s about giving the girls help they need, and putting their pimps where they can’t hurt more girls.

We took a turn through downtown Portland, where Howery pointed out a free-standing public restroom, its metal sides creating a stall filling four square feet of sidewalk. A concerned citizen had called the police after stumbling upon a 15-year-old girl and a 50-year-old sex offender in the stall.

Every time Howery picks up girls in similar situations, he gets them to medical care – and then hopes they’ll testify against their pimps.

“If you arrest somebody for selling drugs, you have the drugs, the money, and what you saw. You have the evidence,” Howery says. “In prostitution, all you have is your victim. If she doesn’t testify, you don’t have evidence.”

Too often they don’t want to testify. They’re in love with their pimps, or ashamed – and always afraid.

“People ask me how I can be a Christian and do this job,” Howery says. “I don’t know how you can do this job and not be a Christian. My philosophy – and I stole it from my father – is, ‘It’s all about Him, nothing about me; and everything I do is kingdom work.’ These people need help; they need a good influence.”

Sometimes that influence filters between the bars in the car separating Howery from his backseat guest. When a woman says God is punishing her, Howery takes the invitation: “I’ve said to them, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not what God is about. If you think God caused something bad to happen to you today, that’s not truth. That’s not what the Bible says. You caused this to happen today. What you do with that now is what will be a defining moment in your life.’”

But most of the time, Howery just shows up and expects God to do the rest.

“God is a God who is there,” Howery says. “Wherever I am, God is. Parts of my job are ugly and sound bad and are bad. God has given me an opportunity to do it. That’s enough for me.”