It’s been just over a week since Oakland Deputy Police Chief Danielle Outlaw was named the city’s next top cop—a rare instance of an outsider being tapped to lead the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).
A quick press conference on Thursday, August 10, was the public’s first, and so far only, glimpse of Outlaw, whose tenure will officially begin this fall.
The new chief’s identity caught many off- guard. Her name was kept secret before it was announced last Monday, despite Mayor Ted Wheeler’s earlier promise that finalists would be vetted publicly. But in her largely unremarkable, 17-minute introductory presser last Thursday, one hesitant line from Outlaw gave many observers a notion of what to expect.
“I’m not here to—I don’t want to say ‘reform’—I’m here to strengthen the good work that’s already been done” by the PPB, Outlaw said.
In her next breath, she mentioned the necessity of holding officers “accountable to the community” and shoring up “vulnerabilities” in the bureau, but the “reform” line got all the attention—raising concerns among activists, who viewed it as an endorsement of police behavior under former Chief Mike Marshman.
“The press conference was pretty bad,” said Portland’s Resistance co-founder Gregory McKelvey, who’s otherwise satisfied with Outlaw’s hiring (particularly, he says, because she’s not Marshman, who will officially retire after his vacation time is up). “She should be here to reform because our police desperately need reform. It sounded like something the police union would be happy with her saying.”
The city’s rank-and-file police union, which had been advocating for Marshman to keep his job, was, as McKelvey predicted, pleased with Outlaw’s first public statements.
“She did a good job in the press conference,” said Portland Police Association (PPA) President Daryl Turner. Outlaw met with Turner and the president of the Portland Police Commanding Officer’s Association (PPCOA) union earlier in the day.
Outlaw also met with two Portland City Council members individually—Commissioners Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz—and with Dan Saltzman’s chief of staff, Brendan Finn (she hasn’t met Commissioner Chloe Eudaly or her staff yet).
“We met with her for a good 15, 30 minutes, and I talked to her about Portland City Hall because I’ve been here for 18 years,” says Finn. Saltzman’s top aide says the new police chief expressed her desire to actually live in Portland—specifically the Pearl District—unlike a good portion of the officers who’ll be working for her.
Nearly everyone the Mercury has spoken with about Outlaw over the last 10 days has described the 41-year-old as a competent and capable law enforcement professional. How she adapts to Portland—with its fraught police reform efforts, unique city government, complicated history, and vocal activist community—will be a central question early on. Outlaw spent almost her entire adult life with the Oakland Police Department.
Finn says he stressed to Outlaw the pitfalls of Portland’s commission form of government, which he believes “is really weird for someone to just walk into.”
“Here, the politicians run the city bureaus,” says Finn. “I said, ‘It can get sticky.’”
Turner, the PPA leader, said, “I think it’ll be more of a learning curve for her, to be able to learn about the organizational structure and political landscape more. There’s always going to be critiques from the community about the incoming police chief. Anxiety is expected from both sides—the community and internally.”
John Burris, a prominent Oakland civil rights attorney who’s familiar with Outlaw in her role as deputy chief there, told the Mercury last week that her transition to PPB chief “won’t be the easiest thing, because when you’re from the outside and/or there was a strong association [by current cops] with the previous chief, you have to overcome that and gain the trust of officers—that you’re for them.”
Activist Teressa Raiford of Don’t Shoot Portland says she would have preferred the new chief come from the Pacific Northwest—someone with deeply rooted knowledge of racism in the region. “I don’t think we’ll get a lot of engagement from someone who has to learn the community first,” Raiford says.
McKelvey, who was happy that a woman of color was hired as police chief (“even if they are a cop”), says he’s going to invite Outlaw to a Portland’s Resistance forum where he hopes she’ll field questions from activists.
It’s still unknown how much of Outlaw’s command staff will be holdovers from the Marshman era, and how many will be promoted or entirely new faces. But the new chief’s got a good reason to get her house in order quickly.
In November, not long after her October 2 start date, Outlaw’s PPB will likely face a status conference in federal court, in which the feds will weigh in on the bureau’s compliance with the United States Department of Justice-spurred reforms.
Outlaw’s got a busy fall ahead of her.