Photo essay: A night in the life of a Portland police officer

Jason Kaplan
Police officer Michael Holmgren inspects a suspicious car to see if it was involved in an earlier hit-and-run

We follow officer Michael Holmgren as he patrols the streets of Portland’s North Precinct.  

Share this article!

In this new series ‘Working the night shift,’ OB photographer Jason Kaplan follows the people who keep the state’s largest city running through the night.

Night-shift workers are often invisible to the diurnal majority, who sleep through the darkest hours.  The goal here is to shed a light, as it were, on those who labor when the sun shines on the opposite side of the earth.  

Structuring one’s life in opposition to typical patterns has both challenges and benefits.  We’ll explore both through the eyes of those living this alternative lifestyle.

Portland police officer Michael Holmgren

Holmgren is an earnest 32-year-old who has just finished his second year with the Portland police force.   I catch up with him at 10 p.m. when he begins his shift.  Holmgren says that officers choose their own shifts in order of seniority, which is why he works graveyard, Friday through Monday.  Officers generally work four 10-hour shifts with three days off. 




Because seniority determines shift assignments, the night is generally staffed by young, relatively new people, as though working overnight is a rite of passage.  

Portland is divided into only three precincts, and North Precinct, Holmgren’s post, covers almost all of east Portland north of Route 84.  Holmgren says this vast area is patrolled by only 12 officers through the night.  

“It used to be 16 but was cut to 12 and will probably be cut again.” He explains the open positions are not due to budgets, but rather difficulty in recruiting qualified people who want to be police officers.  

As soon as we leave the North Precinct parking lot to start patrol, Holmgren says “ok” with resignation and hits his lights to pull over a young driver who did not have his tail lights on.
This is repeated several times through the night.  People without headlights are the most common reason to pull someone over this night. Each time, Holmgren runs their licenses to check for warrants.  Though he only gives out warnings this evening, each interaction is carefully documented using the police interceptor’s onboard computer.


When dealing with people, Holmgren says he always tries to help.  “The main point of police work is to try and be reasonable” he says. 

Picture5Holmgren checks a suspicious car to see if it had been involved in an earlier reported hit-and-run.  

Whenever a call comes through of something that might be more than a minor traffic violation, Holmgren puts on the lights and sirens, and races to the scene, driving as fast as 80 mph on narrow city streets.  The only arrest that night was by a sheriff’s deputy who noticed a stolen pickup truck at a gas station.  Holmgren arrives as backup. 


Newly married, Holmgren laments that he lives on an opposite schedule to his wife, who works during the day. He says he keeps his night schedule throughout the week and that it has forced him to be more judicious with how he structures his free time. An advantage of working at night is to be able to move freely about the city without the streets being clogged with traffic.  

Around 5 a.m. there is a shift in the energy of the city as it starts to transition to wakefulness.  

We part ways about 6 a.m., though Holmgren will be on duty till 8 a.m.. At the height of the morning rush hour Holmgren will head home as most people are starting their day. 

To subscribe to Oregon Business, click here