Statement from Urban League President and CEO Nkenge Harmon Johnson on the Hiring of New Portland Police Bureau Chief Danielle Outlaw
August 7, 2017
The Urban League looks forward to welcoming Chief Danielle Outlaw to Portland and the larger community. She is an experienced and capable leader who can make an impact in the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). As a member of the interview panel, I had the pleasure of meeting Chief Outlaw. I have several reflections about the experience.
Danielle Outlaw, Deputy Chief of Oakland Police Department, named new Chief of Portland Police Bureau.
First, the pool of candidates was terrific and stronger than I anticipated. Considering the political climate, the stubborn problems at PPB, and the negative headlines featuring Portland in the national news, I worried that great candidates would not seek the position. Also, knowing the often-inhospitable local environment for leaders of color, I wondered whether strong potential candidates for the job would want to risk their reputations by bringing their talents to Oregon. As I met and interviewed the semi-finalists, I was delighted to hear about their top-notch credentials and enthusiasm for making Portland a better place. Each candidate had training and experience that made them a potential fit to face the serious issues that PPB and the city face.
Second, Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as the police commissioner, was clear about framing the search for the new chief in terms of what the city needs now. The job description called for “a highly qualified and transformative Police Chief.” Importantly, he noted that Portland and the state “share a history of legally sanctioned systemic racism with legally enforced exclusionary practices.” Mayor Wheeler said, “Anyone applying for the job should be fully aware of our state’s history, and prepared to join me in ensuring that this history is just that… in the past.”
I applauded his stance at the time and commend him again for choosing to include specific language about the racial inequities that our government institutions have perpetuated. Mayor Wheeler’s decision to state those facts and expectations- despite misguided pushback from the police union- made a difference in the quality of candidates who applied. I have no doubt that seeing the historical context along with a clear statement about the changes the mayor expects to see, led to receiving applications from a racially diverse group of varying ages. That Chief Outlaw will be the first Black woman police chief in the city’s history is an encouraging result from the city’s recruitment efforts.
Finally, while I see hope for improvement, my optimism is not boundless. I grasp the challenges that Chief Outlaw will face, such as:
a police union that has too-often planted its feet against the path of change, even when the community demands it,
bureau veterans who have seen many chiefs come and go, and may be prepared to wait out another one if she is not well-supported by the mayor and community, and
a city council that waivers on being strong and transparent when doing so becomes hard.
I also see assets that Chief Outlaw will have to work with, including an Urban League staff and membership that is ready and able to engage on the toughest issues in our neighborhoods, the opportunity to hire many new officers within the first years of her tenure, and a community that is crying out for a 21st century, progressive public safety bureau. Based upon the skill, savvy, and grit that Chief Outlaw has demonstrated during her career, I expect that she is ready for the demands ahead.