Mayor Ted Wheeler has hired Robert King, a former Portland police commander and former police union president, to serve as his senior policy advisor on public safety.
King enters Wheeler's office after 27 years with the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). King retired in 2018, while he was serving as PPB's North Precinct commander. He's leaving retirement to fill the city position vacated by Wheeler's former public safety advisor, Berk Nelson, in early March.
In an interview with the Mercury in March, Nelson said he decided to leave the mayor's office—in part—due to the incredibly high-stress demands of the position, which often felt like a 24/7 on-call job.
King's resume reflects someone familiar with this type of work environment. According to a press release sent by Wheeler's office, King has served as a Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) officer, detective, patrol supervisor, and as the president of PPB's police union, the Portland Police Association (PPA). King also served as the PPB spokesperson under former Chief Mike Reese.
King is perhaps most famously known for writing the training reviewthat served as the basis for the city's decision to fire Officer Ron Frashour, the cop who fatally shot Aaron Campbell in 2010. His participation in this process made the former PPA president reviled by current PPA President Daryl Turner.
But, when it comes to officer-involved shootings, King has his own record.
In 1992, King fatally shot an 18-year-old involved in a convenience store theft after the teen stabbed him in the shoulder. In 1997, King was one of three officers who shot at, and killed, a 65-year-old man who officers believed was suicidal.
King also has a rocky record on police accountability and systemic racism.
While PPA president in 2008, King fought then-Mayor Sam Adam's attempt to create a racial profiling committee to evaluate traffic stop data and recommend policies that eliminate discriminatory practices in the PPB. King went as far as to hire an out-of-state statistical consultant to "prove" that racial profiling within the PPB doesn't exist. (Spoiler: it did and it still does).
A direct quote from King at the time: "Portland police do not engage in racial profiling." It should be noted: That particular racial profiling committee was chaired by now-City Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty, who admonished King's outright denial.
In a press statement, Wheeler said King's decades of experience will help address the "changing needs" of Portland. He also hinted that King's background might help the mayor's office regain officer trust and respect—which is currently at a low point.
“We are at a critical time when it comes to the role of public safety," Wheeler said. "Our police officers deserve the respect, attention, and resources they need now more than ever. I hope to continue building a strong relationship with the members of the Bureau and our community with the help and guidance of Robert King.”
King echoed this sentiment in his own statement, included in Wheeler's press release.
"I respect, admire, and appreciate the work done by members of the Portland Police Bureau," King said. "I am deeply committed to continuing the work of building bridges as well as finding ways to heal hurting communities."
King's first day in City Hall will be Monday, April 8.