Portland police chief says he's well prepared for L.A.’s challenges

Now that Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker says he wants to be the next police chief in Los Angeles, observers say his ability to bridge the gap between diverse populations may be the key factor in whether he succeeds.

At this early stage, there appears to be no obvious front-runner to succeed Chief Bernard Parks, who announced his retirement earlier this week after not being reappointed for a second five-year term.

Most observers who've noted Kroeker's 32-year term with the LAPD and his 2 1/2 years in Portland have expressed confidence in his abilities. Others have lingering concerns about Kroeker, who unsuccessfully sought the L.A. job during the 1990s.

'We have a big gay community here, and Chief Parks promoted an openly gay person to be deputy chief,' said Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden, one of three black council members who supported Parks' staying in office.

'I don't know how Kroeker might feel about that. The community down here is really proactive. You've got to get by that.'

Kroeker, who sought the LAPD chief position in 1992 and 1997, came under fire during his first year in Portland when taped comments he made more than a decade ago became public. The comments were derogatory toward gays.

Kroeker dealt with the issue by asking for Mayor Vera Katz's support and reaching out to the gay and lesbian community. Many citizens now view the incident as 'water under the bridge,' said Marty Davis, publisher of Just Out, a gay and lesbian newspaper.

Race 'too easy to fall back on'

Some say the other inevitable factor in selecting L.A.'s next chief will be race. Kroeker lost the chief's spot both times to black men Ñ Parks and Willie Williams.

That could work in Kroeker's favor, according to Holden. 'There's people saying we had two black chiefs, let's go back to where we were,' he said. 'But that's not a good enough reason to select somebody.'

Others say Kroeker's race could hurt his chances of getting the post because many minorities are still angry over Parks not being reappointed.

'Does race matter?,' said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas. 'In the minds of some, I suspect it does. But sometimes that's too easy to fall back on.'

Most insiders say it's just the candidate's skills that count, and all candidates will need to prove themselves.

'Just because he was No. 2 before doesn't mean the position is automatically his. He has to earn it,' said Geraldine Washington, president of the NAACP in Los Angeles. 'My hope is that whoever is selected will be the best that they find.'

A good crisis manager?

On Monday, Kroeker said he welcomed the challenges and emphasized his proven ability to smooth over crises within the ranks and in the community.

'If it's so that there is a certain amount of turbulence (within LAPD), if there is a crisis, if it's true that there are major problems, those are things that not only stimulate me, but those are the areas in which I can honestly say I've been able to be successful,' Kroeker said.

While Kroeker said he and his wife are happy in Portland, he has a sense of 'unfinished business' in L.A. Supporters think he's up to the task.

'Whoever gets that job is going to be having to measure up and fulfill a lot of hopes,' said Bob Ueland, a longtime member of the Chief's Forum and other citizen advisory groups in Portland. 'I think he is the perfect type of person to just walk in and simply go to work, to be very open and listen to them.'

With the search for a new LAPD chief expected to take up to six months, Kroeker said he won't let his candidacy distract him from day-to-day duties in Portland. He said he has the support of Katz and his command staff.

The Los Angeles police commission is expected to appoint a temporary chief next week, and Parks will leave office by May 3. A headhunting firm will begin a nationwide search for the new chief in the weeks to come.

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