Sizer shakes it up

BACKSTORY: After a year on the job, police chief warms to hot seat
by: L.E. BASKOW, A few weeks before she was named police chief, Rosie Sizer visited the scene of a police Tasering on Northeast Sandy Boulevard last year with then-assistant chief Jim Ferraris.

It's been a year since Rosie Sizer took over as Portland's police chief. But it hasn't just been any year.

Without fanfare, Sizer is in the midst of what many observers think will be the most significant reshaping of the Portland Police Bureau in a decade or more.

It's not just the new policies, though there are plenty of those. It's also the people.

Faced with a slew of retirements, she's promoting some people, passing over others. Assuming she sticks around, by the end of 2008 she could replace nearly a fifth of the bureau's sworn police-officer ranks, and roughly half of its upper management.

'There will be huge turnover in the next couple of years,' said Cmdr. Dave Benson president of the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association. 'In my mind, that's the story.'

Sizer is using a new promotional process, and may lower the educational requirements on new hires. And she's inserting 'community policing' values into both hiring and promotions, hoping the public sees a kinder, gentler Portland Police Bureau.

But others are concerned that the changes she's making will benefit the bureau's in crowd at the expense of those who may not be popular but who have good qualifications or have done good work.

Take the case of Thomas Brennan, a Central Precinct officer who, shortly after being nominated for a statewide award last year, found himself on the wrong end of Sizer's new approach.

'What she's doing now is going to change the Portland Police Bureau for a long, long, long time,' Brennan said. 'I pray she's making the right decisions.'

New chief dared to decide

Sizer began making changes right from the start.

Mayor Tom Potter appointed Sizer as acting chief April 11, 2006. That was the day Potter put then-Chief Derrick Foxworth on leave while the bureau investigated allegations of a steamy relationship with a desk clerk, Angela Oswalt, six years before, when he was a precinct commander.

The next day, Sizer demoted Foxworth's closest ally and No. 2, Stanley Grubbs, and told Foxworth's two other assistant chiefs they would be demoted, too.

Sizer, a 22-year bureau veteran whose husband, Dan Noelle, served as Multnomah County sheriff for eight years, has been settling long-debated questions ever since.

Let cops sport tattoos? Done.

Let patrol officers have cell phones? Done.

Cut or eliminate specialized units to get more cops on the street? Done.

'She makes things happen,' East Precinct Cmdr. Mike Crebs said. 'She seems like a natural at it.'

Not only is Sizer making decisions, she is having fun doing it.

'Over the course of my career, I saw a lot of chiefs who didn't seem to be having much fun, and who would often remark that the position didn't hold the influence they thought it would,' Sizer told the Portland Tribune. 'I have the exact opposite impression … it seems like we're doing a ton of stuff.'

Bureau insiders say the biggest mark Sizer will make is in the people she hires and promotes. 'This will be a new organization by 2009,' Benson said.

But hiring may also be her biggest challenge.

The bureau has 40 vacancies; to cops on the street, the situation has reached crisis level.

To respond, Sizer is moving officers from desk jobs and specialty units out into the streets. She wants to downsize North Precinct, and has redeployed officers to East Precinct - the area with the most calls for service.

For the first time in years, the office next to the chief's sits empty - because she has ended the practice of using a lieutenant as her personal aide, deploying that position elsewhere instead.

But the future appears to hold even bigger and more controversial changes.

Her proposal to lower the educational requirements for new hires, so that new cops would need only a GED, already has sparked opposition from the Portland Police Association and members of the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association.

Last week, Sizer said she thinks a compromise will be reached in the coming months.

Officer Darrell Turner, a union board member, said that while he thinks the bureau should boost recruitment in other ways before lowing educational standards, Sizer deserves credit for tackling a problem that had loomed for years without being addressed.

'She kind of stepped into a hornets' nest,' he said.

Some promotions don't come

In addition to changing hiring practices, Sizer is being more aggressive in whom she promotes. Like any chief, she has installed her own set of assistant chiefs, a group that gets high marks for integrity and competence.

But her changes and proposed changes go further than that. The case of Tom Brennan shows why some people would approve, and others wouldn't.

Brennan, a 21-year Navy veteran, came to Portland in 2001 following three years as a cop in Montgomery County, Md. He'd become the star of Portland's traffic division, busting hundreds for driving under the influence of intoxicants.

In February 2006, his lieutenant even nominated him for an award, DUII enforcement officer of the year for Oregon.

In June 2006, based on interviews and test results, Brennan was ranked first on the list of applicants for promotion to detective and sergeant.

Sizer, however, passed over him repeatedly, reaching down to promote people who'd been ranked No. 12 on the detectives list, and No. 15 on the sergeants list.

'It sent a message,' one cop told the Portland Tribune.

Though Sizer will not discuss her reasons, interviews and records suggest Brennan's reputation preceded him. People suspected he had figured out how to game the system without violating policy.

In 2005, though just a first-line officer with base pay of less than $50,000, Brennan was the fourth-highest paid employee in the entire bureau, grossing $145,738.40.

That's more than then-Chief Foxworth made, according to documents provided under Oregon Public Records Law. His friend, a fellow traffic cop, Joseph Goodrich, earned $106,630.

Some defense lawyers felt the two had padded their overtime by involving each other in drunken-driving cases that could have been handled by a single cop - ensuring both would be summoned to court.

Under the PPA contract, officers receive four hours of overtime, paid at time and a half, for every court appearance.

'All of a sudden both of them were showing up for hearings,' said defense lawyer Robert Thuemmel, adding that having two cops on one complaint was like a lawyer 'having one secretary pour coffee - and having another secretary hold the cup.'

Brennan, for his part, calls the suspicions of padding overtime 'totally false.' He said the two cops involved each other only in difficult cases where having a second cop would help make a conviction.

He said he doesn't think superiors should 'rely on rumors to pass people over for promotion.'

But while Sizer's decision pleased defense lawyers as they watched Brennan get passed over, for some the failure to promote Brennan looked like a personal thing. 'He wasn't in the in crowd,' said one cop, speaking on condition of anonymity.

'Some people think she's doing fine and not making waves,' said former police Capt. C.W. Jensen. 'And others say she's made decisions based on who she likes and who she doesn't like.'

Sizer said she has made no secret that she plans to be aggressive in choosing candidates she thinks are best.

Portland Police Association President Robert King, for his part, said that while the chief has passed people over, she's also done a good job of explaining why.

'If you're screwing up, she'll call you in and say, 'You are screwing up, here's what you do to fix yourself,' ' he said, noting that the directness 'is a little disarming. You really don't expect it.'

Community policing's big

Not only is Sizer being more selective in whom she promotes, she's also de-emphasizing the written test, making it open-book and pass-fail.

She also hopes to involve more input from community activists - as well as candidates' subordinates, peers and superiors. Candidates' demonstrated commitment to community policing will be a factor in promotions.

Some officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, fear that Sizer's changes could turn the promotional process into more of a popularity contest, one that could penalize those who blow the whistle on misconduct.

Detective Pete Simpson, a board member of the Portland Police Association, said he favors the changes if they result in promotions of people who have the respect of their peers.

'There are people who are great about talking about community policing - but have never spent a day out in the street doing it,' he said.

He said that while officers generally are open to the change, some are concerned that 'it is being done to get specific people promoted.'

Similarly, Cmdr. Benson said he thinks the change is fine, as long as the process is fair and objective. The pitfall is that 'you run the risk of at least the perception of a good old boy system or a good old girl system,' he said.

Sizer defends her decision to de-emphasize the test, citing her sergeant's test in 1990. 'To this day I remember that if you work on hot asphalt, you're entitled to two pairs of shoes a year,' she said. 'I got it right on the test, but I'm not sure it makes me better at anything.'

She also rejected the notion that her changes could lead to cronyism. 'I really don't consider myself a good old boy or good old girl,' she said. 'I've appointed people who have got credibility and good job histories, but not necessarily just like me at all.'

Jensen, the former police captain, said Sizer would hardly be the first chief to employ favoritism - all do it. And de-emphasizing the test isn't a bad idea, he said: 'The old system didn't work, so why not try it?'

Officers asked to meet kids

Sizer said she and her assistant chiefs have been going around the bureau encouraging some people to apply for the test, both to improve diversity and counter a marked decrease in the number of people seeking promotion in recent years.

'I would encourage women particularly to pursue supervisory management,' she said, but added that it should be an individual decision. 'I wouldn't want to somehow provide a sense to women that they were being sacrificed to a cause.'

Assistant Chief Lynnae Berg said Sizer also is changing the way commanding officers are evaluated, using paid 'executive leave' to reward community policing efforts.

Sizer and Berg are asking officers to make a point of interacting with Portland's youths, at community centers, parks, girls and boys clubs, and the Police Athletic League.

And Sizer has been trying to lead by example. According to numerous observers, she is getting out into the community more than her predecessors did.

Last week, for example, she delivered the opening remarks at a youth forum at an alternative high school for at-risk kids.

She scooped ice cream to benefit a New Avenues for Youth program that puts at-risk kids to work, wearing a Ben and Jerry's T-shirt over her uniform while becoming covered in ice cream up to her elbow.

She also walked the catwalk for the benefit fashion show for the nonprofit Dress for Success, which benefits low-income women.

'Tell them I'll do it,' she recalled saying when she heard about the fashion-show invite. 'But I won't wear high heels and nylons.'

Most observers approve

In interviews with a variety of observers, Sizer's first year generated grades that range from a C to an A.

'I think she will be one of Portland's truly great chiefs,' said community activist Dr. Irwin Mandel.

Dan Handelman, a volunteer with Portland Copwatch, said while Sizer has done well in some areas, she has appeared 'casual' at times about police violence. He specifically cited her response to the controversial death of James Chasse Jr.

'I'm not surprised by his perspective,' responded Sizer, adding that she will make an announcement concerning use of force this week.

Jensen said: 'I'd give her a B,' but given the no-win nature of the job, 'I don't think you can get an A.'

Detective Pete Simpson described her performance as 'solid,' saying, 'She has made decisions that other chiefs couldn't make or wouldn't make.'

'I think the jury's still out,' said James Hester of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents nonsworn bureau personnel.

According to Sizer, her husband, former Sheriff Noelle, has told her she's doing a good job - including 'not listening to his bad advice.'

But for all her good marks from most people so far, Sizer knows that the vibe could change quickly. As she told the City Club, she is 'simply a pager call away from catastrophe.'

Has she ever wondered if she is trying to do too much, too fast?

'That is definitely something you have to weigh,' she said. 'You can go too slow and nothing gets done, everything gets overprocessed. And you can go too fast and create too many fires at once.

'Particularly for the last six months I think we've been on the edge of tackling too much,' she added. 'So I just need to monitor that and listen for people's tolerance for change.

'On the other hand, you don't want to let opportunities go.'

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