Writings and observations

A firing and a reassignment

adams police

Adams (left) at the firing and reassignment/Portland city

The firing of Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer by Mayor Sam Adams today was the obvious top-line headline of the day in Oregon. (His replacement, for now anyway, is Michael Reese.) But a bureaucratic component of this is almost as significant, and telling.

You have to assume that the immediate trigger was Sizer’s press conference on Monday, when she said that the budget cut plan Adams had outlined – which included Police Bureau provisions – would mean slicing 25 sworn officer jobs, something Adams had said he would not do. The conflict between the two of them has been growing.

But there’s a lot more underneath this. Under usual circumstances, Adams wouldn’t have fired her at all, because he had given up supervision of the Police Bureau. Under Portland’s (ungainly and peculiar) commission system, the mayor assigns oversight of the various city agencies to council members. Usually, for the last several decades at least, the mayor has kept personal oversight of the police. Adams, dogged by scandal at the beginning of his term, chose to hand it off to Commissioner Dan Saltzman instead. (He made that choice public well before his swearing-in.) Saltzman has brought some assets to the situation during a time when police conduct and labor relations have become intensely controversial. But he isn’t the kind of big-presence-in-the-room that might take firm control. So various players, including Sizer, union leaders, and others, have been flinging around.

The guess here is that Adams, though not eager to jump into this, may have recognized what a lot of observers (including the Oregonian) argued from early on: That the police are simply too hot a subject, and too challenging to ride herd on, for anyone other than the mayor to do it.

Adams: “As police commissioner, my first charge is to establish the bureau leadership necessary to get us back on track. Like it or not, our social safety net has been disintegrating for years. The City of Portland slowly–but surely–finds itself inheriting more and more of the community’s social service needs. The fact is, our 1200 officers on the street have become our community’s social service first-responders.” He seems to be want to find a way to integrate the police into the range of social services, which evidently is closer to his core areas of interests.

What happened was much more than a personnel matter. The axis of Portland government changed. And that will take a while to sort out.

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