Willamette University

The Thin WU Line - Jim Fleming ’92

Corporate Lawyer > High School Teacher > Police Officer

Jim Fleming ’92

By Susan Domagalski Fleming ‘92

Daniel Fleming wants cake for dinner. His father — Portland police officer Jim Fleming ‘92 — explains the toddler version of delayed gratification. Brown rice and peas first, leftover birthday cake second.

“You can see some similarities for sure in how toddlers think and how some of the folks we see think,” Fleming says. “That struggle between shortterm and long-term thinking.”

Working the night shift, Fleming sees a lot of inner struggles gone bad. “Some people ruin their lives little by little, some do it in one fell swoop.” Drunks, drugs, attempted suicides, a woman attacking her ex-husband whom she believes to have fallen for her new boyfriend.

Quite a change from the 34th floor of a downtown office tower. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Fleming took a job as a corporate lawyer. It sounded good at cocktail parties but left him feeling restless. “The white-collar world was just not for me,” he says with a smile.

Following a stint teaching high school, he decided to branch out from traditional career paths. “I think I’d been pretty limited before in terms of what I thought I was allowed to do with my education. But really, the thing about a liberal arts degree is that you can do anything.”

Part of police work includes the kind of reasoning and analysis he learned at Willamette. “Processing a crime scene is slow and methodical. The crooks are long gone and now you’re trying to collect evidence and build a case,” Fleming says. The other part of the job is almost instinctual. “In college you sit around all night examining an issue from five hundred sides. As a cop, you’ve got to be ready for a body to fall out of the sky and land on your hood.”

Or maybe an unconscious blood-soaked biker in the road. At least that’s the call. It turns out to be a man cycling home after a night of carousing, just stopping to take a nap in the westbound lane of Bybee Boulevard. A passing motorist, trying halfheartedly to revive the young man, has doused him with cherry Gatorade.

So what would Fleming say to young Daniel if he wanted to become a cop? “It’s a great job,” he says. He pauses, then laughs, “but I think I’d rather he made pillows at a pillow factory.”

Susan Domagalski Fleming ‘92 is a Portland-based writer. She graduated from Willamette with a major in English and completed her MA at Johns Hopkins University.

Back to "You're Doing What With Your Degree?