Sizer out in police shakeup – Adams fires chief, yanks bureau from Saltzman

From the Portland Tribune, May 12, 2010

Two days after Police Chief Rosie Sizer challenged Mayor Sam Adams on his proposed budget, Adams assigned the bureau to himself and replaced Sizer with Michael Reese, the former commander of central and east precincts.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Adams said the dispute over the budget was only one reason he took the bureau from Commissioner Dan Saltzman and replaced Sizer. Adams said he also was concerned about what he termed longstanding distrust between many Portlanders and their police bureau.

“People fear crime, but many of them also fear the police bureau,” Adams said, promising that he would actively manage the bureau to improve its relationship with city residents.

Adams and Reese both said a top priority was reworking Adams’ proposed budget for the bureau to make sure 25 officers would not lose their jobs in the coming fiscal year — something that Sizer had charged would happen.

Adams said Sizer would continue to be employed by the bureau until she retires this summer, allowing her to receive full retirement benefits. Sizer was not told of the changes until minutes before the press conference.

Saltzman also learned of the changes from Adams mere minutes before they were announced publicly. Adams did not heavily criticize Saltzman’s administration of the bureau, but said the time had come for new leadership.

For his part, Saltzman praised Sizer’s administration of the bureau and said he was “somewhat disappointed” that Adams took it. Saltzman listed his accomplishments as bringing a new level of transparency to the bureau, filling all vacant officer positions for the first time in eight years, hiring more minorities and improving the bureau’s responses to child abuse and domestic violence cases.

The mayor’s decision comes in the midst of Saltzman’s re-election campaign — a campaign in which several of his opponents have tried to make his management of the bureau an issue. One opponent, Jesse Cornett, issued a press release shortly after the changes were announced saying it was “about time” Adams took over the bureau, accusing Saltzman of being “in over his head” trying to administer it.

Asked how the changes would affect the election, Saltzman said he had no idea but admitted it was “not the kind of in campaign school they say is a desirable thing to happen a week before an election.”

Sizer, a bureau veteran, was hired four years ago to take the place of Derrick Foxworth, who was demoted by former Mayor Tom Potter. She was hired without a contract. While a contract is a common component of hiring a chief from out of town, it rarely comes into play when a chief is promoted from within. She was an at-will employee, reporting directly to the mayor.

Sizer also is the latest in a long line of Portland police chiefs who’ve been forced from the job. Foxworth was forced out by a sex scandal. He was preceded by Mark Kroeker, who lost the job following fallout from the shooting death of an unarmed woman. Before that, Penny Harrington left in midst of an investigation of her department’s reorganization and the relationship she and her husband had with a suspect in a high-level drug case

And Adams isn’t the first mayor to dismiss a chief after a budget dispute. In the 1980s, former Mayor Bud Clark fired Chief Jim Davis during a meeting at the Fat City Cafe.

In a post on his website, Commissioner Randy Leonard praised Adams for taking the bureau and replacing Sizer with Reese, saying, “The Mayor’s recognition of the need for course correction and his courage in making a swift decision to do so is a testament to his skill as the leader of our City.”

Bureau in ‘dire’ situation

As he announced his dismissal of Sizer, Adams spoke about the new reality for the city’s police force — to be the first responders to people facing homelessness, mental illness and addiction.

“It is alarming, frustrating, challenging, the fact that with cuts at the state funding level to the county, how many people have fallen through the social safety net,” Adams said. “We are overwhelmed with the demand for services. … We need to retrain, regroup the relationship the police bureau has with the jails and criminal justice system.”

The situation, he said, is “dire but not impossible. This is a can-do police chief. I’m going to be a can-do police commissioner.”

The press conference came on the heels of a nasty fight between Adams and Sizer on Monday over next year’s budget. Both Adams and Sizer essentially accused each other of lying about the impact of Adams’ proposed budget on the Police Bureau for next year.

Adams unveiled his proposed budget for the next fiscal year on Friday. It proposed cutting 50 positions from the bureau. During a Friday press conference, Adams said that no sworn officers would be laid off because of the proposed cuts.

But on Monday morning, Sizer held a press conference and said the proposed cuts would require that 24 officers be laid off. Sizer also said she would be forced to shut down the cold case unit that investigates unsolved homicides.

Adams responded late Monday afternoon, charging that Sizer had approved the cuts during meetings with him. Adams said he was shocked that Sizer was now saying the cuts would result in officers being laid off.

“She said the bureau could live with the cuts and not have to lay officers off,” Adams told the Portland Tribune Monday afternoon.

Adams also said Sizer misrepesented the status of some bureau positions during the meetings, saying they were vacant when, in fact, they were “double-filled.”

“I’m not happy about it,” Adams said of the differences.

Yet, at Wednesday’s press conference, Adams said budgetary issues were just one of his concerns. He cited “a cumulation of factors and the need to put together a budget, and my desire to take the bureau in a different direction under my own assignment.”

Adams noted there has been a drop in officer-involved shootings under Sizer’s leadership, but faulted her for being too reactive, rather than proactive in her management of the bureau.

“And the discussions I’ve had with Chief Reese are to put this bureau on a proactive, clear-eyed path of reform,” Adams said.