40 years on the beat: 'I'm just a cop'

40 years on the beat: 'I'm just a cop'

EUGENE, Ore. - A driver slows down and waves to Randy Ellis on Alder Street west of the University of Oregon Campus.

"You were here when I was going to school," the driver says.

"Well see, we're both still alive, so that's a good thing," Ellis replies.

Gas was still less than 40 cents a gallon when rookie cop Randy Ellis joined the Eugene Police Department.

That's a long time ago.        

This month, Ellis marks his 40th year with Eugene PD. The officer is nowhere near the end of his beat.

"I'm just a cop," says Ellis in his office at the West University substation. 

No one knows how many pairs of shoes he's worn out walking his beat.

"Well, he's really kind of the fabric of the neighborhood,"  says West University resident Zach Vishanoff. "He's kind of our chief of police and our grandpa, all in one."

Randy Ellis joined Eugene PD in 1970 for the princely sum of $620 a month.

"I thought, you know, that might be fun for a while," he recalls. "I'll be a cop for a few years, then I'll get a real job."

His career spans four decades, from the anti-Vietnam War riots at the campus - "I can remember spending all night guarding ROTC when it was up at 16th and Alder" - to the off-campus beer party riots of recent years.  

In the 1990s, he was assigned to West University and East 13th. A community policing program clamped down on aggressive panhandling, drug sales and other crimes.

"People realized they weren't going to get to misbehave down here," Ellis explains. "They either stopped the misbehaving or went somewhere else to misbehave."

He has also not endeared himself to some in the city for his unconventional methods of fighting crime, like in 2005, when he spray-painted "No Panhandling" messages on the sidewalks and curbs at 7th and Chambers.

"Oh yeah, sometimes I can actually be proud of that I guess," he says.

But whether he's bantering with joke book writer Frog Miller ("We're both campus icons; that's right, although you got the award for it," Ellis tells Frog) or returning lost cell phones, he gives no hints about retirement.

"I'm not trying to leave a legacy," Ellis says. "I'm trying to come to work every day and be a cop."