City of Portland

ON HER second day on the job, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw told reporters it was too soon to talk about any changes at the police bureau.

“I’m only on day two,” Outlaw told the Merc’s Doug Brown. “If there is a time to make some shifts and moves, that’s what I’ll do. But I’m not there yet.”

She was totally there.

As first reported by the Mercury last week, Outlaw reached an understanding with Mayor Ted Wheeler upon accepting the police chief gig: She needed a second in command.

Under an arrangement Outlaw is proposing with the mayor’s blessing, the city would create a brand new “deputy chief” job within the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

It’s a stark change for the bureau. Whereas past chiefs like Larry O’Dea and Mike Marshman took reports directly from the bureau’s three (and formerly four) assistant chiefs, Outlaw wants those reports to be fielded by her deputy.

That additional buffer “will provide her the opportunity to focus on the strategic goals of the organization,” PPB spokesperson Sergeant Chris Burley told me in an email.

Something else it’ll do: create higher costs and raise questions about operational redundancies—especially in a bureau that a 2014 city report concluded was top-heavy.

The deputy chief’s salary would top out at $186,576 a year, and receive a take-home vehicle valued at $75,000. Figure in benefits and the new administrative assistant the deputy chief would get, and you’re talking about costs of nearly $350,000.

Despite these big changes, the city has kept the deputy chief proposal close to the vest. News of the change surfaced when a city council agenda item was posted online last week—but the ordinance [PDF] was attached to the council’s “consent agenda,” meaning it won’t get an individual hearing unless someone specifically requests one. (It’s not uncommon for new classifications to be put on the “consent agenda.”)

Funding, too, has come in under the radar. Though city Human Resources Director Anna Kanwit told me the deputy chief position was discussed as part of Outlaw’s hire, Wheeler’s office requested $347,000 to pay for the position late in the game—in a list of last-minute requests for funding as part of a November 1 budget adjustment.

Such late requests sometimes irk city budget watchers, who see their timing as a way to avoid scrutiny by City Budget Office analysts.

The fact it was attached to the consent agenda is a sign that council likely supports Outlaw’s request. The next big question is who she’ll hire.

Burley says Outlaw will take applications from both inside and outside the bureau, but the classification has very few strings attached to it, according to Kanwit. Outlaw is free to hire, for instance, a close confidant from her former job at the Oakland Police Department—a move that would make Wheeler’s rare decision to tap a chief from another agency even more rare. Suddenly two Oaklanders could be atop the PPB.

But perhaps it’s too soon to speculate. Outlaw has been on the job less than a month, after all. Let’s take her word for it that she still has much to learn.