YES, I REALIZE that each of the three major mayoral candidates has promised to take the reins of the Portland Police Bureau if elected—an approach that's both historically sound and politically sane.
And, yes, it was a disaster when Sam Adams—scandal plagued and desperate to focus on less-fraught subjects like economic development—decided to install Commissioner Dan Saltzman as police commissioner back in 2009.
But after a recent forum on police issues, hosted by the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, I'd consider bucking conventional political wisdom. There's a good case for letting someone who isn't running for mayor take the job, and that person is council candidate Steve Novick.
Novick—too well funded and too well known to lose his bid to replace the retiring Randy Leonard—said too many of the right things on a host of important issues.
We should spend more on social services and less on adding cops, he said, noting that even Police Chief Mike Reese admits "crime is down." Novick said he had the same chat with the Portland Police Association (PPA), but that "they looked at me like I was crazy. 'What do you mean crime is down?' They should know they're not walking around in an armed camp."
He wondered why the Independent Police Review Division "never actually does independent reviews." He said cops should "applaud" Occupy protesters and keep the riot gear for actual riots. He'd have pushed for harsher punishment for more of the cops in the Aaron Campbell shooting.
And he'd do more to encourage hiring more minorities and then put them back in neighborhoods, on foot and on bicycles, and not in cars.
"I'm honored," Novick said when I called to say I'd nominate him—but it's a nonstarter. Even if asked, he wouldn't accept, on "philosophical" grounds. It's supposed to be the mayor's job.
Fine. I lose. So what about the Big Three? Mayoral candidates Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, and Jefferson Smith weren't bad at the forum—but none were as consistently dynamic, frank, and thoughtful as Novick.
Instead, they mostly played it safe. Occasionally, each would say something interesting.
Brady called for a stand-alone mental health unit in the police bureau. Hales promised an incentive for cops who live in Portland, since only 25 to 33 percent do ["Where Police Officers (Don't) Live," Oct 21, 2010], and vowed to bully the PPA. Smith said he'd insist on bringing city commissioners to all future PPA contract talks so they'd actually be open, just like the city promised ["Behind Closed Doors," News, June 2, 2011].
But it wasn't enough for a potential police commissioner. And that's troubling, especially because these are the candidates who actually want the job.
CLARIFICATION: While Mayor Sam Adams did technically name Dan Saltzman as police commissioner in 2009, the decision to free Adams up to focus on issues like economic development was made in late 2008. It wasn't in response to Willamette Week's reporting on the Beau Breedlove scandal, which Adams' office learned of several days after Adams' appointment.