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New police chief hits the ground running

Larry O'Dea vows to boost diversity, address use of force

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Police Chief Larry ODea talked with civil rights leader Avel Gordly after being sworn in Thursday.Larry O’Dea was sworn in as Portland’s new police chief last Thursday during a time of unprecedented change within the bureau.

“The relationship between the community and the police is sound, but it could be better,” Mayor Charlie Hales said at the swearing-in ceremony.

O’Dea replaced retiring Chief Mike Reese as the city is implementing the terms of a settlement agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice. The department conducted a civil rights investigation that found the police have a history of using excessive force against the mentally ill.

Mayor Charlie Hales and the City Council accepted the findings and approved the agreement, which requires 197 changes in Portland Police Bureau policies and practices, including the creation of a 20-member panel to oversee the implementation of the agreement and the hiring of experts to help manage the process.

“It’s really time for us to move forward building those trusting relationships that will help us,” O’Dea said after being sworn in, adding that he wants a diverse bureau “so anyone in the community can look inside and see someone that looks like them.’’

But the agreement is not without controversy. Community organizations claim the changes do not go far enough, and they accuse the council of trying to wiggle out of the agreement by challenging the authority of the federal courts to enforce it. Hales says the council is only seeking certainty on the frequency and compliance requirements of future court reviews. The issue is set for mediation on Feb. 23.

And police statistics show that officers stopped African-Americans twice as often as their share of the city’s population in 2013, the most recent year for which such figures are available. According to a Portland Police Bureau report released last week, 12.8 percent of all traffic stops in 2013 involved African-Americans — double their 6.3 percent of the city’s population, according to 2010 U.S. Census statistics. All other races were stopped at a lower rate than their share of the city’s population, including whites, Hispanics and Asians.

African-Americans also were twice as likely as whites to be searched by police, the report says. While 14.9 percent of African-American motorists were searched when stopped by police, 7.4 percent of white motorists stopped were searched, according to bureau figures.

In the meantime, more than 80 people have applied to serve on the 20-member Community Oversight Advisory Board before the Jan. 16 deadline. Commissioner Nick Fish already has nominated Avel Gordly to it. She is a longtime civil rights activist and the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate. The first COAB meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Already making his mark

O’Dea has an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Portland Community College and a bachelor’s degree in social science from Portland State University. He worked for a short time as a reserve deputy for the Clackamas County Sheriff’s

Office before being hired by the Portland police in 1986. Early

duties involved working a downtown walking beat, and serving on a street crimes unit, the

bureau’s first gang enforcement team, and the Special Emergency Reaction Team. He has spent the last seven years as an assistant chief and an executive assistant in the chief’s office.

Although he was only sworn in as chief last week, O’Dea already has made his mark on the

bureau. He announced organizational changes effective on Jan. 8 that created a new Community Services branch intended to improve relations with city residents. It will be headed by Assistant Chief Kevin Modica, an African-American who most recently served as commander of the transit division.

“It is vital that we increase our efforts in regard to community engagement. We must continue to build community relationships and trust. The value of these relationships is unmeasurable and critical as we move forward,” O’Dea said when he announced the change in December.

O’Dea also supports an ongoing staffing study to determine whether the bureau has too many supervisors, as a previous city auditor suggests. It is scheduled to be concluded early this year.

Modica and a number of other bureau employees also were sworn in to new positions at the ceremony. It was a standing-room-only event in the auditorium of the Portland Building that drew a large number of first responders, including police officers, Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputies, Portland Fire & Rescue officials, and even Portland Parks & Recreation rangers. Also in attendance were families of those being sworn in and students from Rosa Parks Elementary School in North Portland.

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