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Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Job from hell

Her Honor announced the new police chief today -- Derrick Foxworth, a 20-year veteran of the Portland police force, former chief public information officer for the bureau, one-time Northeast Precinct commander, and most recently assistant chief under Mark Kroeker.

Kroeker got his walking papers last Friday. The mayor didn't even have the decency to fire him to his face. So former Commissioner Mike Lindberg apparently went in and axed the guy. Vera, how gutless. And Mike, are you still on the city payroll somewhere? Sheesh.

People are praising Foxworth and wishing him well, and I join them, but I'm not optimistic. He's taking on one of the most impossible government jobs anywhere, and in his early 40s no less. He's working under a lame-duck mayor who has shown little ability to help get the bureau's problems under control. And there's all sorts of old and heavy baggage being thrown around by the officers' union, the lefty community, the African-American community, you name it.

You just can't win in that job. It's a bitch, both physically and psychologically. The Oregonian's editorial board was right on Saturday when it said:

A majority of Portland's police officers are... dedicated and worthy of the city's pride and support. But their service is overshadowed by a mean streak running through the bureau and an institutional defensiveness that gives rise to self-serving policies.
Those shadows fall over the chief most particularly.

As several news sources pointed out over the weekend, before then-Mayor Frank Ivancie appointed Ron Still to the chief's job in 1981, Portland had had just two chiefs of police in 20 years. However, when Bud Clark whoop-whooped his way to City Hall in '84, rapid turnover in the position began, and it hasn't let up much since. I believe there have been six chiefs and several more acting chiefs since Bud took over. Three Clark appointees -- Robert Tobin, Jim Davis, and Richard Walker -- came and went so fast they don't merit too much discussion. If I recall correctly, Walker gained notoreity for allegedly slapping a female police officer in the face. Davis deserves mention as the chief who prefaced a curt comment to the mayor over a power breakfast with the phrase "Read my lips." Clark's response: "Read my lips: You're fired."

A few of Davis's predecessors and successors have also had to master the art of lip-reading. Things usually don't go well for long for the Portland police chief, and they have a tendency to end badly. Here's the roll call of the recent chiefs who lasted longer than a cup of coffee, and what happened to them in the job:

Ron Still. Portland police officers had just been caught throwing dead possums in front of an African-American-owned restaurant when law-and-order zealot Ivancie (who slept with a baseball bat under his bed) kicked then-Commissioner Charles Jordan out of the Police Bureau chair. Still was brought in as part of that regime change. He had his detractors for being too militaristic and stifling creativity in officers. When Clark became mayor, Still was dismissed after around three and a half years as chief. Four years later, he ran against Clark for mayor. He managed to force a runoff, where Clark won re-election easily. Today Still and his wife are selling real estate.

Penny Harrington. The First! Woman! Police Chief! Of Any! Major! American! City! Yes, but the union office strongly disliked her, and the Men in Blue (and I do mean Men) resented her. During her tenure, a 31-year-old black man was choked to death by a police-administered "sleeper hold." Community outrage escalated when, on the day of the young man's funeral, several Portland police officers were found selling t-shirts which read, "Don't Choke 'em, Smoke 'em." Within a year and a half of her taking office, there was an alleged scandal involving Harrington's then-husband, also a member of the force, who was accused of tipping off the subject of police surveillance in what was then called Old Town. Then a blue ribbon panel convened by Clark called for Harrington to be bounced. And she was. Now she lives in Southern California and acts as an expert witness and consultant on gender discrimination.

Tom Potter. Potter strengthened his credibility with gays and lesbians when he publicly supported his gay daughter, a Portland police officer. There was quite a flap over his wanting to march in uniform in a gay pride parade. Naturally, he became a target of criticism from the Oregon Citizens Alliance, with one of its officers accusing the chief of bending under the pressure of the "homosexual agenda." Shortly after Vera Katz became mayor, Potter abruptly retired at age 52, two and a half years after becoming chief, reportedly because of the mayor's penchant for micro-managing the bureau.

Charles Moose. An African-American deputy chief hand-picked by Katz to take over the bureau (sound familiar?) when Potter bailed, Moose attempted to carry out the community policing mandate introduced by Harrington and Potter. But his own relationship with the African-American community soured, particularly after a nasty scene in Sellwood Park in which beanbag rounds were fired at some allegedly rowdy would-be partygoers. After an angry crowd marched on his Northeast Portland home one hot summer night, Moose began looking for the exit door. Seen by some as volatile and unpredictable, he quit to take the top cop job in a county in Maryland, a job he also quit under pressure after his 15 minutes of fame expired in the D.C. sniper case. He had persevered in Portland, though, lasting six years as chief.

Mark Kroeker. He was heralded as the man who had calmed things down in L.A. after the Rodney King riots. But whoever vetted his candidacy for the Portland gig overlooked his broadcast anti-gay remarks down there. Then up here we had the May Day disturbances, the disastrous First W. Visit, the Iraq War protests, and the Kendra James shooting. Meanwhile, police stations throughout the city were being closed at night and on weekends. Kroeker interviewed for the L.A. chief's job, calling his thin commitment to Portland even further into question. It got very lonely at the top very quickly. He lasted three and a half years.

See any happy stories there? I don't.

So Chief Foxworth, I sincerely wish you the best of luck. You are going to need it.

Comments (2)

Let's not forget (in all of this Portland nostalgic glory) that the infamous firing of Ron Still by Bud Clark occurred at the Fat City Diner, where the incident is actually commemorated by a plaque at the booth where it happened.

Good luck to Chief Foxworth -- he'll need it.

That's the way I was remembering it, too, but my research reminded me that it was Davis, not Still, who got the lip-reading advice at Fat City.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Job from hell:

» Past And Future Chiefs Of Police from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
Today's edition of the Portland Tribune has a look at Derrick Foxworth and what he faces as the new Chief of the Portland Police Bureau: Foxworth's first test could come Thursday when the City Council... [Read More]

» Nobody told Potter from Jack Bog's Blog
KGW's got a story up about how no one informed Portland Mayor Tom Potter of the police killing of unarmed civilian Jim Chasse on Sep. 17 until after the medical examiner's report on Chasse's death was released last Friday, Sep. 22. The mayor was on vac... [Read More]

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