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Kroeker ponders top job in L.A.

Portland's police chief said to have a good chance at bigger post

In upcoming weeks, Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker must decide Ñ if he hasn't already Ñ whether he will seek the soon-to-be-vacant post of Los Angeles police chief, which he unsuccessfully sought twice in the 1990s.

'I'm looking at it,' he said Thursday. 'It's a possibility.'

Members of the Los Angeles police commission voted this week not to reappoint Chief Bernard Parks to a second five-year term. Kroeker is one of about a half-dozen top candidates, and people close to him say he has a good chance of getting the job.

'I think he would be a leading contender,' said friend and L.A. Councilman Dennis Zine, also a Los Angeles Police Department veteran. 'I don't think there's any doubt he can bring about change with aggressive community policing, because when I worked with him he was instrumental in establishing programs throughout the city.'

A 32-year LAPD veteran, Kroeker, 58, left Los Angeles in 1997 after twice applying for the chief position. He lost to Willie Williams in 1992 and to Parks five years later.

Kroeker left L.A. to become deputy commissioner of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When he returned, he lost a bid to become sheriff of Los Angeles County.

Kroeker was hired as Portland's chief in December 1999 and has said that he and his wife, Diane, are happy in their Irvington-area home. Yet they also have kept their house in Los Angeles, which they rent out.

Early on, Kroeker indicated he would be in Portland for at least five years. Lately that's changed.

'I want to remain in an open-door kind of position here,' he told the Tribune. 'I don't want to deceive people (that) I'm here forever. I'm not here forever.'

Kroeker, who serves as an 'at-will' employee of the mayor, said Wednesday that he's currently focusing on city budget work and doesn't want the job issue to overshadow that.

He'll announce any decision in the next few weeks.

A nationwide search

The L.A. police commission said it decided not to keep Parks Ñ by a 4-1 vote Ñ because he was inflexible in his leadership, damaged officer morale and contributed to an increase in violent crime in the city in part by failing to fill about 1,100 vacant jobs.

Parks, whose term officially expires Aug. 12, appealed his rejection to the L.A. City Council. Its members are expected to confirm the vote in upcoming weeks.

'If it's something (Kroeker) is interested in, I'm certain people in L.A. would give him close consideration,' said city Councilman Jack Weiss. Mayor James Hahn will decide on a group of three finalists.

The post comes with a police force of 8,900 officers and a salary of $250,000, compared to Portland's 1,000 officers and Kroeker's current salary of $138,000.

People who know Kroeker say he may just have a burning desire to lead one of the largest police forces in the nation.

'If you are successful there É you can pretty much name your ticket after that for whatever you wanted to do,' said Penny Harrington, a law enforcement consultant based in California and a former Portland police chief.

'For him, I think it's a matter of, 'This is my department, I've always wanted to be the chief, I deserve it.' It's something he's worked for all his life.'

Robert King, president of Portland's police union, said it would be tough to see Kroeker go because of the progress that's been made.

One of many

If Kroeker decides to leave, he will become the eighth chief Portland has seen come and go in the past 28 years. Most have been fired, resigned or quietly left, having been pushed out by the political powers that be. Most chiefs have come from within Portland's ranks; Kroeker and Bruce Baker, in the late 1970s, were the only outsiders.

Harrington, whose term as chief lasted only 18 months, said the turnover is no surprise because the police chief is often at the center of the hottest political storms.

'It's such a political job,' she said. 'If things go bad in a police department, which they always do, it's much easier for the mayor to throw the chief's head to the dogs than it is to stand up and take the heat.'

The previous seven chiefs were:

• Charles Moose (June 1993 to July 1999), who received mixed reviews as the city's first black police chief. He left to become police chief in Montgomery County, Md.

• Tom Potter (November 1990 to June 1993), who instilled community policing reforms and dealt with his daughter coming out as the first openly lesbian Portland police officer. He retired to travel and pursue his hobby of archaeology.

• Richard Walker (1987 to 1990), who was accused of slapping a female officer in a parking lot, leading the city to settle a claim with her for $7,500. He retired from police work two years later.

• James Davis (September 1986 to April 1987), who served for only seven months before he was fired by Mayor Bud Clark because he wouldn't go along with budget cuts.

• Harrington (January 1985 to June 1986), who was forced to resign after a special commission criticized her job performance. Later, she established the National Center for Women in Policing.

• Ron Still (1981 to 1985), who was criticized during his term for being too militaristic a leader. He was appointed by newly elected Mayor Frank Ivancie during a bureau crisis and left when Ivancie lost to Clark.

• Baker (1974 to 1981), who suffered a heart attack and had double bypass surgery during his term, causing him to retire.

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