Last Wednesday, Police Chief Rosie Sizer encouraged disgruntled North Precinct residents to write the mayor if they had a problem with her plan to possibly close their precinct.
Sizer had invited local residents to the January 24 "input session" at the Historic Kenton Firehouse on N Brandon, after rumors of the precinct's possible closure sparked outrage in the community ["Cop Shop on the Chopping Block?" News, Jan 18]. The chief also sent out a two-page press release, inviting 101 local media people along to capture the neighbors' outrage for the public record.
Sure enough, after hearing Sizer's detailed proposal—to remove North Precinct's commander and shift seven sergeants and command staff over to East Precinct, where call numbers suggest they're more needed—residents hit back, as reporters scribbled and TV cameras rolled.
"No matter how you spin it, this proposal amounts to closing North Precinct," said six-year North Portland resident, Doretta Schroch. "Without the command staff, it's not really a precinct."
Afterward, Sizer told the Mercury she was not surprised by the community reaction to her plans. "But as chief of police, I'm looking out for the interests of all citizens of Portland," she said.
Sizer may indeed be looking out for all of Portland—but is her real plan to close the North Precinct as a command center, or to push Tom Potter into keeping it open? As a 20-year veteran of the police bureau, the chief likely anticipated the outrage her North Precinct proposal caused (former Mayors Bud Clark and Vera Katz both made similar proposals in 1991 and 1997, and were forced to renege after public outcry). And Potter, as former head of North Precinct, 1986-1990, also knows first-hand how possessive its community members are over their cops.
In other words, it's possible Sizer is rousing neighbors to fight for the North Precinct, forcing Mayor Tom Potter to save the day by stumping up more cash for the cops' budget. While nobody will say so on record, Potter is facing more and more pressure behind the scenes to "stand up" for the cops, with an article by Officer Daryl Turner in this month's cop paper, Rap Sheet, saying "Tom Potter... seems like a stranger to us."
Closing North Precinct would certainly go against Potter's campaign promises. While North Precinct only receives 10 percent of Portland's 911 calls for service (compared to East Precinct's nearly 30 percent with the same number of command staff), it's a model for community policing in the city—the mayor's most memorable election pledge.
Former Police Chief Potter—who holds the bureau's purse strings and will sit down with Sizer to discuss its budget over the coming weeks—probably doesn't want the reputation of being the mayor who killed community policing in North Portland. After all, Potter is often credited as the first to bring community policing to Portland.
"Tom would be enormously reluctant to see any decline in community policing in North Portland," says Potter's spokesman, John Doussard. However, he says, "that's not necessarily related to staffing levels."
Sizer also told those at Kenton Firehouse she does not think community policing in North Portland is directly related to its staffing levels—but to many, that argument rang hollow. They think the precinct gets so few calls for service because its officers are doing such a good job, and think fewer officers will lead quickly to a loss of true community policing.
Sizer admitted at the community meeting that reshuffling command staff could lead to less police service in North Portland. But this week, she denied playing politics with the precinct.
"I am sincere," she told the Mercury. "Now, whether or not council is going to agree with me is a different thing." Moreover, she says, "If they are going to give us more money, then I'd rather it went to investigative resources, than to simply throwing money at the underlying imbalance in the precincts."