Late on Labor Day, Vera Katz's office announced the mayor would host a press conference at the beginning of business on Tuesday. It was assumed she would explain the reasons for Kroeker's resignation and kick off a search for his replacement. For the past three years of Kroeker's controversial tenure, Katz had invariably supported the police chief--even in the face of accusations of bigotry, police brutality, and cover-ups. But this time it appeared that Katz was breaking rank.
While announcing his resignation, Kroeker gave the murky explanation that Katz had forced him out "through intermediaries.Ó That announcement raised more questions than it answered. Even more mysterious was that only days earlier Katz had assured the press she was not interested in firing Kroeker.
On Tuesday morning, with a dozen TV cameras trained on her, Katz stepped onto a small footstool and peered over a podium to announce the appointment of Derrick Foxworth, the Assistant Police Chief as a permanent replacement for Kroeker. It was a swift and surprising move. Katz barely alluded to Kroeker's resignation, simply calling him a man of integrity and a professional. She brushed aside a few questions and said she was more concerned about looking forward.
Then Katz stepped out of the way and the new police chief, looking slightly nervous but with a steady voice, strode up to the podium and gently kicked aside Katz's footstool. Reading from a prepared speech, he prioritized rebuilding the community policing program. He said the police force and the city's residents were "dramatically polarized,Ó and proclaimed that "we must rebuild trust.Ó
A graduate from the University of Portland and a former gang enforcement beat cop, Foxworth has risen through the force over the past 21 years, and is now one of the few African American police chiefs in the country. Although the appointment bypassed any opportunity for public input or a wide-reaching search, it seems like a move that widely pleases both community members and the powerful police union.
Although many activists cheered Kroeker's removal, the specific reasons for his sudden resignation remain unclear. "Ding, dong, the witch is dead,Ó said one longtime civil rights activist--yet couldn't explain why the swift removal came now.
Since taking office, Kroeker has seemingly managed to offend every segment of Portland, from anarchists to his own police officers. Within days of taking office in May 2000, Kroeker imposed an administrative rule banning earrings, long hair, and beards for beat cops. That decision enraged rank-and-file officers. A few months later, Dave Mazza of the Portland Alliance uncovered an audio tape from a speech that Kroeker gave a decade earlier, containing anti-gay comments.
From this bumpy start, Kroeker never quite gained the confidence or affection from the community he served. During anti-war protests last winter, when thousands thronged downtown, closing the city's bridges, Kroeker annoyed conservative business owners, who said the police force did not do enough to clear the streets. At the same time, activists complained the police were too happy to use pepper-spray and push around protesters.
However, through all these mishaps, Katz never blinked in her support of Kroeker--until last week.
One theory postulates the police union forced Kroeker out. Last week, he announced a six-month suspension for a rookie officer who, in May, shot Kendra James, a 21-year-old African-American woman, during a traffic stop. A grand jury cleared the officer from any criminal liability and union members publicly stated a six-month suspension of an "innocentÓ officer was too severe.
Another theory for Kroeker's demise relates to a blistering report released last week examining police shootings between 1997 and 2000 (before Kroeker took office). The report angered members of city council and, last Tuesday, Kroeker calmly explained what steps he was taking to remedy the shortcomings listed in the report. Kroeker agreed that "92 percentÓ of the report was correct and was looking to implement recommended changes. He also told city council that if they allocated more money for the police bureau, many of those problems would be solved. Some speculate his lack of humility enraged Katz.
"When he stood in front of the council, he dissed her in public and made it look like it was her responsibility,Ó explained Alan Graf, a civil rights attorney who is representing several lawsuits against the city for police brutality. "One thing that Katz can't stand is a blow to her big ego,Ó continued Graf. "That was the log that broke the camel's back.Ó
On Saturday, Albina Ministry is hosting a forum to discuss their ongoing investigation into the Kendra James shooting, 4867 NE MLK Blvd., 9:30 am. On Wednesday, Portland Alliance hosts a fundraiser at Squeez, 1403 SE Belmont, 5 pm-1 am.