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What Happened to James Chasse: Policing requires compassion, not college, chief says

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Policing requires compassion, not college, chief says

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein

To widen the pool of applicants and attract more minority candidates, Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer says she's considering lowering the educational bar for new officers from two years of college to a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate.
Sizer touched on the idea during a speech Friday to the City Club in which she spoke of her first year's challenges and accomplishments leading the Portland Police Bureau.

Citing the rising cost of earning a college degree, Sizer said the bureau's current requirements restrict some qualified people, and in some cases minorities, from reaching the front door of the department.

Sizer, a 22-year bureau veteran, said she's frequently reminded of something one of her police coaches said early in her career. He told her good officers need three key traits: integrity, common sense and a sense of humor.

"And I'd add compassion," Sizer said. "You don't necessarily get that at college."

Sizer said she's committed this year to re-evaluating the bureau's educational standards for hiring, as well as the hiring process, which can last a year, "so we can open the net wider."

The bureau has made a tentative offer to a city Bureau of Human Resources employee to serve as the Police Bureau's personnel manager, replacing a police captain who now holds the job. The bureau has about 45 vacancies through the officer and supervisor ranks. As it struggles to hire recruits, it also faces waves of upcoming retirements. In 2006, the bureau hired 46 new officers and 64 retired. This year, 89 officers will be eligible to retire; 160 in the next 24 months, bureau figures show.

Eight percent to 9 percent of the people who go through the testing process to become a Portland office are hired. Minorities now make up about 13 percent of the Police Bureau.

"I think we can do better, and we're trying," Sizer said.

In 2001, former Chief Mark Kroeker lowered Portland's four-year college degree requirement to an entry-level requirement of an associate's degree, 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of college courses.

Former Chief Charles Moose had set the four-year college degree standard in 1996, arguing that the complexities of the job demanded more education. Today, the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office is the only law enforcement agency in Oregon to require a four-year college degree.

"We're a small enough agency that our applicant pool is such that we're able to maintain that," Lt. Jason Gates said.

In a wide-ranging speech, Sizer said she recognized the "ephemeral nature" of the chief's job, that she occupies a position "that is simply a pager call away from a catastrophe."

Sizer was appointed interim chief April 11 to replace Derrick Foxworth.

"My philosophy is to do what good I can in the time I'm given," she said. "Fairness, honesty, transparency and compassion, they are part of every decision I make as chief of police."

Within the bureau, she said she's working to fill administrative functions with civilians to place more cops on the street and detectives in investigative roles. For example, she wants to limit the 3,000 annual caseload burden on the bureau's single missing persons detective.

In reference to last year's death in police custody of James Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old man who suffered from schizophrenia, Sizer urged City Club members to lobby lawmakers and county commissioners to provide funding for a crisis triage center and "more humane and effective alternatives" so police will have places other than jail or an emergency room to take people suffering from mental illness.

The Police Bureau has started to train every patrol officer and street sergeant in crisis intervention, something Sizer said she wished the bureau had done 10 years earlier.

"I think that the training would have better prepared us to deal with a crumbling mental health care system," she said.

Responding to questions, she said her gender has been an asset, allowing her to display a range of emotion that a male counterpart might not be able to.

"Cops are stereotyped," she said. "I don't fit the stereotype. I feel embraced by the community, and I think part of the reason is because of my gender."

She called November's voter-approved reforms to the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, "overdue and welcome." As chief, she said she had never wanted to sit on the fund's board.

"I did not want that job," Sizer said. "I didn't want to know detailed medical information about my employees. I think I was placed in a position I shouldn't have been in."

While she said one of her greatest challenges is to restore public trust in the Police Bureau, Sizer cautioned her audience not to have unrealistic expectations for police officers.

"Many police officers feel this unrealistic expectation as though they must be perfect in everything they do. It can be frankly unnerving," Sizer said. "It is a heavy burden for every police officer. It is a heavy burden for a chief of police."

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