The Corvallis Police Department’s new second-in-command should be a familiar face to many on the streets of Corvallis and in the halls of Oregon State University.
Nick Hurley, the department's new captain of professional standards and support services, has returned to Corvallis following a two-year absence training officers at the state police academy. The 43-year-old graduated from OSU with a master’s degree in education before spending 14 years as a Corvallis police officer.
Hurley admits the transition from education to law enforcement might sound unusual, but he’s always seen himself as a bridge between both worlds.
“I grew up in a family of educators and teachers, so I always tell them that I am still in the education world. It’s just that my classroom is a little bit bigger,” he said. “But I always wanted to have a positive impact on my community. And whether you’re in education or law enforcement, it’s ultimately about creating that positive impact.”
While Hurley’s first foray into the law enforcement world officially started as a cadet at the police academy in 2000, his unofficial start came a few years earlier — on OSU’s campus.
Hurley was in graduate school at OSU, on his way to his master’s degree in education and set to follow in the family business of being a lifelong educator. And like many educators before him, Hurley became a resident assistant and later a hall director. He didn’t know it at the time, but that experience created a spark that would lead him down a lifelong path of law enforcement.
“I was getting my master’s and thinking, this is what I’m going to do — I’m going to be in higher education,” he said. “But while I was an RA, I really got that experience of living among your community and holding people and myself to standards that we all want to live by. And as a director, I’d have to work with Corvallis officers on student conduct.”
That’s when Hurley decided to take a ride-along with a Corvallis police officer, who just so happened to be Jim Zessin, the man Hurley would be replacing as captain 16 years later. Zessin retired from the Corvallis Police Department earlier this year.
“Ironically enough it was on that ride-along ... I thought, 'huh, maybe this is where I’m supposed to be,' ” Hurley said. “I wasn’t ready to say it yet, but that was the first time I saw what it meant for police to really be serving a community and being connected to that community.”
Within a year, Hurley became a cadet at the Oregon Public Safety Academy.
“I thought, if I don’t do this now, I’ll never do it and I’ll always wonder,” he said. “Leaving higher education was difficult because those people really became like my family. But I had to give policing a shot, because that pull was so strong. I knew if didn’t try it, I wouldn’t be happy in 10 years. And I knew it wouldn't be any easier to try to leave 10 years later.”
After graduation, Hurley went to work in Corvallis — the same place that inspired him to become a police officer.
“The first time I put on that badge I felt a pride like I had never felt before,” Hurley said.
And while spending 14 years working his way up through the ranks of the Police Department, Hurley started to feel a pull from his education side once again. Instead of abandoning one love for another, though, Hurley combined them both and in 2014, he went to work for the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. This time, Hurley was going to be an educator of police officers.
“It was a cool, cool job,” he said. “I got to use the realm of policing and combined it with the realm of adult learning and adult education.”
It was at the academy that Hurley was able to pinpoint exactly what it was that drew him to being a police officer in the first place.
“It’s that mindset of warrior vs. guardian,” he said. “We were really trying to shift the image of law enforcement officers from the idea that we’re here to fight and make arrests and put people in handcuffs to this guardian idea of the Constitution and people’s rights. And we’re here to protect people.”
During his tenure with the academy, Hurley was quickly promoted to captain. And with his new position and new outlook on policing, Hurley became excited at the thought of combining his love of education and law enforcement with his love for Corvallis. After a hiring process that included dozens of members of the local community, Hurley took over as second-in-command for the Corvallis Police Department in August.
“We talk about that shift toward using emotional intelligence and being a guardian and I couldn’t help but think, ‘Corvallis is already doing this,’” he said. “We’re here because the people are employing us to be police. We are doing what the people have employed us to do.”