Rosie Sizer defended ‘demonized’ Portland Police Bureau to the bitter end

Column by Steve Duin, from The Oregonian, May 12, 2010

On his 497th day spent cowering in the mayor’s office, Sam Adams finally took command of the place Wednesday, cashiering Police Chief Rosie Sizer and taking control of her “demonized” police bureau.

Still steamed about Sizer’s public criticism of his 2010-11 budget, Adams kicked her to the curb. That petulant but long overdue smackdown capped an eventful week in which the city finally settled the James Chasse Jr. case, the lasting epitaph on Sizer’s 49 months in the penthouse suite of the Justice Center.

To the bitter end, Sizer acted as if the cops were the real victims in the brutal death of Chasse, pile-driven to the sidewalk by Portland’s finest. She was so cavalier about the interminable delays in the internal affairs investigation into Chasse’s death — “Absolutely intolerable,” Adams said — that the citizenry’s anger was still mounting when the $1.6 million settlement was announced.

But Sizer was cavalier and defensive about so many things. The police, she argued in February, couldn’t be blamed for the Aaron Campbell shooting, not when the city refused to fund a regional training center so the cops could target unarmed suspects in a “realistic setting.”

The bureau’s resident thugs, Officer Chris Humphreys and Sgt. Kyle Nice, shouldn’t be “demonized” or disciplined for that “horrible accident” in the Pearl District, Sizer insisted, no matter what her boss, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, said.

And Sizer was so unimpressed — or unintimidated — by Adams’ power and privilege that she marched out of budget negotiations and into a news conference Monday to announce that the mayor’s proposed budget would sideline 25 police officers.

“That,” Adams said, “was a moment of supreme frustration,” and the final insult for the mayor. While serving as Vera Katz’s chief of staff, Adams learned the importance of working the building and the bureau heads until he could take a balanced budget out for public display.

He was convinced that both Sizer and Saltzman had signed off on the Police Bureau budget, and he considered the press conference obnoxious and insubordinate.

With a decisiveness we haven’t seen since we were introduced to Beau Breedlove, Adams chopped them both off at the knees, booting Sizer two months before her planned retirement and stripping Saltzman of the bureau at the end of his re-election campaign.

Adams would not own up to unnecessary petulance or vindictiveness. Too many of the positive changes in the bureau on Sizer and Saltzman’s watch, he said, have been “in response to crisis, to failure. I want there to be a cultural change. There are wide swaths of our community that look to the Police Bureau in fear, not in safety.

“I thought it was time to be more proactive.”

You think? On Day 497 on the job?

Adams said he conferred with no other commissioner before offering the chief’s job to Mike Reese, who would seem married to the very culture Adams wants to change.

It was Reese, after all, who transferred Officer Tom Brennan to the property evidence warehouse after Brennan complained about the street tactics of Kyle Nice. Brennan filed a tort claim against the city in January, claiming the bureau was retaliating for his speaking out.

Asked about Reese’s selection, Adams said, “For the Police Bureau, this has been a rough two or three years. I had to weigh stability over inclusion.”

Adams waited far too long to take command of the bureau, jettison Sizer and remember who won the 2008 election. That he finally has suggests Adams trusts he has put scandal behind him, but it is no guarantee of stability ahead.