City of Portland

Portland ended the decade with an unsurprising—but abrupt—shakeup in police leadership.

On December 26, then-chief Danielle Outlaw informed Mayor Ted Wheeler she’d taken a job leading Philadelphia’s police bureau. Five days later, Deputy Chief Jami Resch was sworn in as Portland’s newest police chief.

In her first press conference as chief, Resch stressed her desire to earn and maintain trust in the community. It’s a valid concern: After going through seven police chiefs in the past decade, Portlanders are hesitant to make any assumptions about a new leader’s investment in the community. And although Resch is a 20-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), she’s remained out of the public eye for most of her career.

With the city weeks away from entering historically tense contract negotiations with PPB’s rank-and-file union—negotiations that will be followed by equally contentious police budget talks—Portlanders need a chief with a clear understanding of PPB’s policy history and the public’s needs. Now the question is if Resch can fill that role.

Resch was born in Montana, but in her teens moved to Beaverton with her family. After graduating with an Allied Health Sciences degree from the University of Portland, Resch set out to be a doctor. It didn’t pan out. Despite having no prior interest in policing, Resch’s curiosity was piqued during a major 1999 recruiting effort by PPB.

“In all honesty, it was something I did almost to see if I could,” Resch told reporters at a January 6 press conference. “But after I started going through training, I loved it.”

Resch spent the 2000s climbing the ranks of the bureau, working as the head of an illegal firearms retrieval team, serving as the commander in charge during crisis situations (including a fatal 2018 police shooting), and running the night shift at the bureau’s East Precinct—a role Resch says she was particularly fond of. In May 2019, Outlaw appointed Resch to be her second in command.

Resch says she intends to stay the course laid out by her predecessor.

“I pledge to continue to support all the great work that is already being done,” said Resch. “Now is the time to continue the momentum. It is not the time to veer in a different direction.”

That’s one of the main reasons Wheeler, who took seven months to select Outlaw, was so quick to appoint Resch.

“When we were searching for a new chief in 2017, we knew we needed someone to come in and shake up the bureau,” says Wheeler’s chief of staff Kristin Dennis about Outlaw’s hire. “But this time is different—we’re happy with the trajectory we’re on.”

Like Outlaw, Resch is invested in a pilot program to require body cameras to be worn by PPB officers, supports adding more officers to the police force, and has no interest in changing the way PPB responds to violent protests. Resch has also shown strong support of the Portland Street Response, a pilot program meant to dispatch mental health crisis workers, instead of police officers, to handle non-violent situations reported by Portlanders calling 911.

There are no obvious differences between Outlaw and Resch’s policy goals and policing style, but Resch’s history at the bureau—and recent comments on its future—offers hints at where she might focus her energy.

Resch has spent her years in PPB leadership working to help Portland’s refugee and immigrant community feel safe. She regularly joins volunteers in welcoming refugees at the airport, has tailored PPB classes for immigrants on basic traffic laws and crime reporting, and sits on the police bureau’s Muslim and Slavic advisory councils.

It was Resch who, after hearing concerns from Portland’s immigrant community, penned a letter to the federal government ending a contract that allowed immigration enforcement agents to train on PPB property.

Laila Hajoo, a member of the Muslim Advisory Council, says she’s “relieved” that Resch was Wheeler’s pick for chief.

“Jami has proven herself,” Hajoo says. “We can trust her. For a community like ours, one that is always sitting on the edge of safety, that’s a huge compliment.”

Under Resch’s leadership, PPB sponsored its first Iftar meal for the local Muslim community during Ramadan, and worked closely with mosque leaders to address fears around potential terror attacks.

“Resch is very serious about educating and providing support for community leaders,” Hajoo says.

At her first press conference, Resch mentioned an interest in diverting those charged with illegal gun possession from prison sentences. It’s a nuanced idea coming from a bureau that often draws a hard line between “good guys” and “bad guys.”

“There are more options available... not just jail,” Resch said. “Using all the tools we have available to us is important.”

Perhaps the most stark difference between Resch and Outlaw is their familiarity with Portland. Resch has 18 more years of experience working in the PPB than Outlaw did when she resigned.

That’s heartening for both rank-and-file cops, who have already expressed trust in their new leader, and veteran police accountability advocates.

“It’s a good sign,” says Debbie Aiona, a longtime police reform activist and board member of Portland’s League of Women Voters. “Her longevity here makes it seem like she’s not just trying to get a track record here in Portland and get a job somewhere else.”

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Lakayana Drury, chair of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP), the group of Portlanders who oversee the police bureau’s court-mandated community engagement work, is hopeful a new chief means new conversations on issues that Outlaw wouldn’t budge on.

“For regular people in the community, it’s not going to feel like a big change,” he says. “But new leadership means new decisions on how police policies are carried out. It’ll be interesting to see what [Resch] does with that.”