SIZER'S SIZE-UP: Portland's New Chief One Year Into Her Tenure Continues Mixed Signals
Chief Sizer Continues to Talk Community Policing While Militarizing
It has been a little less than a year since Portland Police officers Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphries killed James Chasse, Jr. (PPR #40), and a little more than a year since Rosie Sizer stepped into the role of Police Chief. While she has done an impressive job of trying to put a human face on our marred Police Bureau, she has a way to go in commanding respect and trust from many Portlanders. She seems able to steer the public's opinion away from holding accountable either individual officers or official police policy. She and Mayor Potter purposefully confused the main issues of police brutality surrounding the tragic and unnecessary death of Chasse with issues of mental health. Sizer has not held accountable any of the officers involved in the death of Chasse when they thought he was acting "bizarre" (aka suffering from mental illness); for beating African-American teenager Sir Millage when he was suffering from autism (PPR #40); or for tasering and traumatizing Brandi Hess when she was going into diabetic shock (PPR #41). Portland Copwatch continues to demand justice for Chasse and many others. Let's look at a couple of other issues that Sizer has had to grapple with over the last year...
To boost the size of the force, Sizer has recruited from low-morale Sheriff's deputies (see "Updates"). Also, she has advocated lowering the standards to become a Portland Police officer. Sizer has proposed to lower the requirements from a two-year degree to a high school diploma or equivalent-- with the following questionable exceptions: Applicants can also qualify by claiming two years of active military service, four years of military reserve service, two years as a civilian employee of the PPB or Bureau of Emergency Communications, two years as a police cadet or police reserve with a minimum of 500 hours of experience, or two years as a police officer with another agency. PCW is of the opinion that you can't adequately learn constitutional rights on the streets, but you can't really learn street smarts in college, so a balance is needed. Sizer justifies opening the doors to those with military experience by saying, "lowering the requirement will allow for people with 'rich life experience' to join the force" (Oregonian, June 19).
In the May issue of the Rap Sheet, editor Det. Peter Simpson objected to lowering the educational standards, advocating recruiting those just returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. While Simpson believes "It's the experiences you have in college that make you a good police officer," he also pushes harder for employing the troops. We are nervous about the idea of a bunch of men and women trained to kill the "enemy" in combat--many with PTSD--walking around Portland with guns. Simpson makes the objectionable statement, "members of the military have been fighting wars and conducting peacekeeping missions, sometimes at the same time. I would advocate that these veterans would be great additions to the Bureau as our missions are not that different."
Some kudos are due to Sizer for promoting the hiring of civilians to do desk jobs. This frees officers to be doing possibly productive work, and allows for the precincts to stay open until midnight. She has relocated officers from desk jobs to street patrols and units investigating domestic violence, elder crime, sexual assault, missing persons, fraud and property crime investigations (Oregonian, February 22). It's good that Sizer assigned officers to these mostly relevant and important tasks one could call "Community Policing" instead of just sending more cops out to harass homeless people.
Speaking of Community Policing, Sizer shared some questionable sentiments during her address to the City Club of Portland on March 30 (reprinted in April's Rap Sheet). While she calls for empathy towards officers as they carry a heavy burden "to be perfect in everything they do," she also states her number one priority is "building better relationships between the Police Bureau and the community." She identifies a couple of ways she feels officers are already doing this. She gives the example of officers assisting overworked parole and probation officers in supervising "high risk offenders weekly in casual 'getting to know you' visits." To us, this supposedly friendly program looks like intimidation. She also gives credit to officers starting out their shifts going to after school centers to create relationships with children who may only know police officers in a negative light. This seems like a superficial fix. Not until the PPB institutes and actively upholds policies that ensure police will only make routine traffic stops and only use force when reasonable to achieve a legitimate law enforcement purpose--not just because the driver or suspect is not middle-aged and white--will there be a reason for these young people to trust law enforcement. It won't be just because the cops can play a good game of basketball.
PCW commends Sizer on taking a controversial and active role on the Mayor's Racial Profiling committee, even when she calls this issue the hardest for police to navigate. Unfortunately, while speaking to the City Club, she broadly demonized those who accuse police of racial bias as often being "criminals who are degrading the community's quality of life."
Finally, PCW took special note of an article in the June 4 Oregonian. The article describes the over three-dozen letters that Sizer gets each week as "different" due to their often obsessive, unintelligible, paranoid and off-the-wall content. While the letters make Sizer conclude that many of her writers are "lonely" and "desperate," she boasts that her office has a 100% response rate. In September 2006, as a result of a meeting with Sizer (PPR #40), PCW sent the Police Chief a letter of our own. In it we addressed many of the issues listed in our newsletter. Sizer promised a response. It's been a year... and our mailbox is still empty.
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