Portland Police Chief steps down following criticism from black leaders

Maxine Bernstein

The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

The day before Jami Resch told Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler that she wanted to step aside and have an African American lieutenant replace her as police chief, she received a caustic letter from black leaders who took her to task for her all-white command staff.

The letter from three African American groups — Black Male Achievement, Word is Bond and the Coalition of Black Men — blasted the city’s commitment to diversity in the Police Bureau’s leadership.

They charged that any stated commitment by Resch and Wheeler “rings loud, hollow and tone deaf,’’ considering the “all-white leadership team’’ under Resch.

The letter obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive provides insight into what drove Resch to take the drastic step of relinquishing the chief’s job and asking Lt. Chuck Lovell, an 18-year bureau member, to fill it in a surprise meeting Sunday. Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, agreed with the move and approved it.

Black Male Achievement, described on the city’s website as a program intended to help Portland leaders improve the life outcomes of black men and boys, is staffed by C.J. Robbins in the Office of Equity and Human Rights. Word is Bond is a nonprofit that works to redress racial inequity by empowering minority communities. The Coalition of Black Men is a social organization geared to black community building and youth mentoring.

The letter came five days after Resch announced on June 1 that she had appointed Central Precinct Cmdr. Mike Krantz to replace Assistant Chief Ryan Lee, who is leaving to serve as police chief in Boise. Lee is Asian American.

The groups were outraged that Krantz was appointed without community input and that his selection made the bureau’s command staff – Resch’s deputy chief and three assistant chiefs — all white men.

“Hopeful of forward movement, our community is at a standstill while our city Police Bureau monotonously moves its monotone rank and file into leadership, lacking transparency and diversity at its highest decision-making levels,’’ the letter said.

“To be more direct, we’ve seen Assistant Chief Lee’s exit and the intentional appointment of his successor can only be painted as a blatant ‘whitewashing’ attempt in the Bureau’s upper ranks.’’

The letter accused Resch of lacking understanding in how to build trust with the black residents, calling her appointments “a direct affront’’ and reflective of white supremacy that “drives the current protests.’’

Resch, a 20-year Portland officer and supervisor who became chief in January, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

But in her remarks at a news conference Monday, she said she was responding to community calls for significant change. “I’ve listened and I hear you,” Resch said, as she announced her decision. “I’m asking the community to please trust that this comes from my heart.”

Wheeler also acknowledged during the news conference that the bureau hasn’t done enough to support people of color for promotions and succession to leadership positions.

The letter writers didn’t seek Resch’s resignation, however.

The groups called on her to post the job of assistant chief of the bureau’s services branch — overseeing the financial, records and training divisions — to internal and outside candidates and say Krantz’s appointment was an “interim’’ selection.

“We need to have a very public conversation and remedy to, not only this action, but also the systemic intentional decision making that helps perpetuate a White supremacist culture that puts our most vulnerable in its crosshairs,’’ the letter said.

The letter was attached to an email the three groups sent on Saturday afternoon to Resch, the mayor, City Council members and the police union president.

“Black Male Achievement, Word is Bond, and Coalition of Black Men are deeply disturbed and concerned by the recent leadership changes within PPB,” the email said. “The lack of any community involved process in the appointment of a new Assistant Chief does not champion representative leadership or transparency. We will not stand by idly with zero access to a process for a public leadership position in an institution that has failed to keep our people safe for generations.’’

Emails obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive also suggested that some behind the letter had discussed submitting it to the media, though they didn’t after Resch stepped aside.

Many of the black leaders who were present in City Hall Monday as Lovell was introduced as the city’s next chief of police are active in the organizations that signed off on the letter to Resch.

Tony Hopson Sr., president of Self Enhancement Inc., and Joe McFerrin II, president of Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, who both spoke at the news conference applauding Lovell’s appointment, are on the steering committee of Black Male Achievement.

Kevin Modica, a retired Portland police assistant chief who also is on the Black Male Achievement’s steering committee, said Lovell’s appointment isn’t sufficient and argued that he hopes Lovell surrounds himself with a more diverse command staff.

“I’m hopeful as many others are that the movement of leadership positions does not just stop with Chuck Lovell,” Modica said.

— Maxine Bernstein

Email at mbernstein@oregonian.com; 503-221-8212

Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian

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