1 month in: PPB ‘passion’ stands out to Chief Outlaw

PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw sits down for exclusive interview with KOIN 6

PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw in an interview with KOIN 6 News. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Employee passion at the Portland Police Bureau is what the organization’s new chief says she has noticed immediately within her first 30 days.

Chief Danielle Outlaw sat down with KOIN 6 News over the weekend to talk about her outlook on the bureau, a new deputy chief position, staffing levels and her expectations on how officers handle large demonstrations.

Her first day on the job was October 2, 2017. Outlaw, however, cautions people looking to do a quick evaluation of her performance so soon. Just one month in, and she admits, she’s still gathering information on how the bureau works, what it needs to succeed and what change, if any, could come and how to implement those changes.

“I want the community, both internally and externally, to know what they can expect from us, but I really feel that there is a need to have an understanding of what a chief of police does and what change management looks like, and that there’s an acknowledgement that Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Outlaw said. “I know there’s a quick desire to do an assessment of a [chief’s] first 30 days, but when we’re talking about change management – if that’s necessary – it doesn’t happen in 30 days.”

For the next two weeks, Outlaw will be attending classes at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPPST) in Salem.

Outlaw said she immediately saw the passion from sworn and non-sworn employees at PPB as it relates to their jobs. She described them as being very knowledgeable, still excited “and compelled to get up and come to work every day and do their jobs regardless of whatever pressure are being put on them.”

“I’m really pleased by that because, I can come here and talk about a crime strategy, I can talk about a strategic plan, I can talk crowd management, I can talk about all these things but if I don’t have the people to do it – it’s really a moot point,” Outlaw told KOIN 6 News.

One of the biggest challenges Outlaws sees is managing expectations and “making sure that there’s realistic expectations on both sides of the table as far as what I’m here to offer as the chief, what my role is as the chief, what the organization can provide as a bureau and then the same thing what’s expected in the other direction.”

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw sits down with KOIN 6 News reporter Brent Weisberg for an interview on Saturday Oct. 4, 2017.
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw sits down with KOIN 6 News reporter Brent Weisberg for an interview on Saturday Oct. 4, 2017.

Outlaw still has hundreds of people she needs to meet with as she conducts her initial assessment of the bureau. Since walking into Central Precinct, she’s been pulled in every direction – something she knew was going to happen. “But I don’t want anyone to think that if I hadn’t gotten around to meeting them yet that they’re any less important than the folks that I’ve already met with.”

To help her with day-to-day operations, the chief is hoping to create a new executive-level position within PPB. It would be a true “number 2 position,” Outlaw described it. The deputy chief could command at maximum salary of $186,875 and additional costs for the position could top more than $125,000 to include purchasing equipment, covering benefits, overtime and paying for additional administrative staff.

Currently, there are three assistant chiefs who report directly to the chief of police. All three assistant chiefs oversee a different branch of the organization: operations, investigations and services. With the creation of the deputy chief position, all assistant chiefs would report to the deputy chief who would report to Outlaw.

The chief-deputy chief command structure is not uncommon in law enforcement.

“It’s to allow me to focus on more of the strategic level [of the bureau] so I can be more engaged in the community,” Outlaw says.

The Portland Police Association, the union that represents the rank and file of officers, told KOIN 6 News it supports establishing a deputy chief for the bureau – so long as the position is not another layer of bureaucracy. PPA President Officer Daryl Turner said he hopes Outlaw considers selecting someone from within the bureau to help Outlaw with institutional knowledge.

Danielle Outlaw, the Chief of the Portland Police Bureau, October 3, 2017 (KOIN)
Danielle Outlaw, the Chief of the Portland Police Bureau, October 3, 2017 (KOIN)

Outlaw, who served as deputy chief in Oakland prior to being hired by the City of Portland, says her advice to the candidates for her number 2 position would be to “just come ready.” She expects all employees within the bureau to have strong integrity, have the ability to connect and engage in the community, the ability to problem solve, and to understand “the big picture and work as a team and to be empathetic and to understand that just because ‘we want’ doesn’t mean necessarily ‘we get.'”

The position will be open to external and internal candidates. “It’s all about getting the best person in the seat.”

Handpicking an executive staff is not uncommon – and it comes with the job for bureau leaders – but an open recruitment process is unusual in PPB history.

Former Chief Mark Kroker picked his own deputy chief, Bruce Prunk, in 2000. In 2010, under former Chief Mike Reese, who now serves as Sheriff for Multnomah County, the city council reclassified an assistant chief’s position to be a civilian position. Reese then picked Mike Kuykendall to serve as an executive leader. In 2014, former Chief Larry O’Dea added a fourth branch to the bureau called Community Services. He then created a fourth assistant chief position and selected Kevin Modica to head the Community Services branch. Officials within the bureau confirmed none of the appointments from prior chiefs came with an open recruitment process. The fourth assistant chief position was eliminated in June 2016.

“I’m not the first chief that has brought someone with them – whether it was a sworn position or a non-sworn position,” Outlaw said. “But, I might be the first person that is actually making this an open process – and there will be some community involvement in this as well because this person will be acting for me when I’m not around.”

Funding for the new deputy chief position is still being worked out by the city. Outlaw promises she will not cut any police officer positions amid the staffing crisis the bureau is facing to fulfill the deputy chief position. On Wednesday, City Council is expected to formally approve the deputy chief position and create a salary for the position.

Danielle Outlaw was sworn in as Chief of Police on Monday, October 2 2017. (PPB)

“The issue is, for all of us, and this is something that I recognize as a chief, as a bureau director, we’re all taking money from the same pot,” Outlaw says on what it will take to fund the position. “So it’s a matter of prioritizing what the needs of the city are. If funding goes to the police bureau for something, that means it’s being taken away from somewhere else and I’m totally cognizant about that.”

Last week, the Portland Police Association sent a letter to City Council warning them that Portland is “at a tipping point; the quality of life and safety in our great city is at stake” when it comes to the staffing shortfall PPB faces.

PPA President Turner says over the last 20 years, the population in Portland has grown by over 20%, while the authorized staffing level for PPB has seen a 9% decrease. Authorized staffing includes every sworn officer from the chief down to the newest recruit. At the end of October, the bureau had an authorized staffing level of about 950.

“We should have enough police officers to ensure the safety of our citizens and our officers and to meet our community’s public safety priorities: responding to calls for service; investigating and solving crimes; addressing gun and gang violence; serving those impacted by homelessness; assisting citizens with mental illness and those in mental health crises; engaging with our communities; and conducting proactive policing and self-initiated activity,” PPA President Turner writes in his letter to City Council.

Outlaw agrees with the union and thinks the bureau’s authorized staffing level needs to come up in preparation for when a significant number of officers will be eligible to retire in year. Outlaw would like to see an increase of at least “another couple of hundred [police position] over the next couple of years.”

“The needs of the community has changed, our workload has changed,” Outlaw says. “But yet, our number of authorized strength, or officers, has continued to go down and there’s a huge gap there and so as I continue to move forward asking for additional bodies or funding to even over hire now, it’s just to fix what our issue is today. We’re expecting a mass exodus, or at least, people eligible to retire in the years 2019 and 2020, and the bodies that we’re asking for now is just to allow us to keep afloat.”

PPA suggested city council approve the bureau’s request to over hire 50 officers and to fund 35 limited duration positions in the retire-rehire program, for a total of 85 positions for fiscal year 2017-2018. In fiscal year 2018-2019 PPA wants city council to increase the number of permanent, authorized full time positions in the bureau by 100 sworn officers for a total of 1,050 sworn officers. By FY 2019-20, PPA would like the city council to increase the number of permanent, authorized positions in the bureau by 150 sworn officers for a total of 1,200 sworn positions.

Danielle Outlaw, the Chief of the Portland Police Bureau, October 3, 2017 (KOIN)
Danielle Outlaw, the Chief of the Portland Police Bureau, October 3, 2017 (KOIN)

“There are different models out there as far as what the best authorized strength should be, and I think that that takes a little bit more time and research to get us to what model that would be – but I think there’s clear consensus that we need more. The number needs to be higher,” Outlaw says.

PPA says with a growing population, officers are responding to more dispatched calls for service. The union points out that there has been a “substantial” decline in officer self-initiated activity. Turner says in 2014-2015 officers were dispatched to 236,940 calls for service. In 2016-2017, officers were dispatched to 252,230 calls for service. Self-initiated calls is key to community policing.

As the leader of an organization that values community engagement, Outlaw says that she will have to make it OK if response times for non-priority calls go a bit longer than the bureau would like to see in order to allow officers to get out of their cars and engage with the community. Some officers have told KOIN 6 News that they’re running call to call their entire shifts, making it difficult or impossible for them to meet community members and the business owners in their patrol districts.

Asked what she would tell an officer who is getting burned out, Outlaw said she’d tell them to “hang in there.”

“It’s similar to my experiences as a chief. There’s a lot of expectations placed upon us. We’re given a lot of responsibilities but in the end, we’re human and there’s only so much we can do. I want them – I want the public to know that – that we’re all human beings. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.”

Outlaw said she is aware of officer burn out.

“I’m very sensitive of that,” she says. “I’m sensitive to what I’m asking of them. I sensitive of the hours that they’ve been asked to work over a very long, expended period of time.”

On Saturday, the bureau took an all-hands on deck approach as it prepared for an anti-fascist rally. The bureau cancelled officers’ days off to ensure it was properly staffed for any large, violent demonstration. Another march sponsored locally by self-described anarchists rolled through downtown on Sunday night.

No arrests were made during either event and there were no reports of property damage.

When it comes to crowd management, Outlaw says she expects the bureau to do everything it can to ensure everyone is safe and to protect everyone’s right to First Amendment free speech.

“There are ways to get your message out there and across and be heard without causing harm to others or personal property,” she says.

Danielle Outlaw was sworn in as Chief of Police on Monday, October 2 2017. (PPB)

Outlaw says since getting to Portland she has reviewed “quite a few policies” when it comes to crowd management.

As of Saturday, no immediate changes in crowd management protocols have been made.

“I’ve been here around the clock…trying to do everything I can to do to learn how we do what we do and why, and be prepared to identify additional priorities moving forward so we can have a very clear plan on how we deploy our resources, how we police and why we do what we do,” Outlaw says.

Outlaw believes she is in a position to succeed. The police union agrees and supports her.

“I just want everyone to have realistic expectations and know that my level of enthusiasm is still what it was and is and there’s still a lot of opportunity for room to grow.”

KOIN 6 News will have more on our interview with Chief Outlaw in every newscast Monday.