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February 17th, 2010 JAMES PITKIN | Q & A
 

Dan Saltzman

The city commissioner talks about overseeing the police bureau in “dark” times.

     
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SALTZMAN: “I was probably a little naive as to what I was really, fully getting myself into when Sam asked me to be police commissioner.”
IMAGE: James Pitkin

The past three months have not been kind to City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Since Mayor Sam Adams took the unusual step of not keeping the Police Bureau and put Saltzman in charge of it, Saltzman has faced multiple cop problems that have incited public outrage and brought his leadership into question.

First, Officer Christopher Humphreys—one of the cops involved in the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr.—used a beanbag gun in November on a 12-year-old girl who was violently resisting arrest. Cops pilloried Saltzman for initially taking Humphreys’ badge and gun. Then the public blasted Saltzman for reversing course and reinstating Humphreys to desk duty.

Then came the Jan. 29 death of 25-year-old Aaron Campbell, an unarmed African-American man who was shot in the back when he refused to obey police orders. The police killing of Campbell, who was distraught over his brother’s death from heart disease that day, prompted a rally the night of Feb. 16 that was organized by local church leaders and attended by Rev. Jesse Jackson.

We sat down with Saltzman, who’s facing seven challengers in his re-election bid for a fourth term this May, to talk about his work since becoming police commissioner in January 2009. Visit wweek.com to read more about Jackson’s appearance at the Feb. 16 rally, Saltzman’s view of the Campbell shooting (wweek.com/saltzman_on_campbell), and his plans to hire a new police chief after Chief Rosie Sizer retires (wweek.com/saltzman_on_sizer).

WW: What do you think about Jesse Jackson coming here to talk about the shooting?

Dan Saltzman: I hope he’s here on a mission of healing, and I look forward to meeting with him…. I want to explain to him all the changes we’ve made up until now, and we’ll see where the conversation goes from there. I’ll be listening, too.

After a year-plus as police commissioner, what have you accomplished?

The thing I’m most proud of is the fact that we’re now at full strength. We’ve achieved our goal of hiring up to our fully authorized level. We have diversified those new hires. We’ve also made promotions that reflect the increasing diversity, too.... In a terrible economy, people look at these jobs as nice civil-service jobs and good retirement…. I guess the other thing is—and I can’t take credit for this as police commissioner—crime is way down.

What do you hope to accomplish this year?

Right now I’ve been working with Commissioner [Amanda] Fritz and the chief on...further improv[ing] the intersection with police with the mental health system.... I’ll be looking forward to implementing those changes on top of changes that have been implemented as a result of James Chasse’s death.

What have you done to ease tensions over the Campbell shooting?

I think it’s by doing things like being invited to attend the funeral and going to the funeral. Visiting with the parents, meeting with the Albina Ministerial Alliance.... The chief does similar things; she sits on this [Community & Police Relations Committee].... I did something [Feb. 3] in requesting that the grand jury proceedings be made public. I think that’s a big step.

Is that enough?

I wouldn’t say it’s sufficient. I think we can always do better.

How?

I don’t have specific plans at this point. We’re working on improving the review process, things like that.

Citizens and cops were disappointed the Chasse investigation took three-plus years. How long should they take?

No more than six months.... Part of our reforms will include some tighter timelines on the police side for reviewing cases.

Commissioner Randy Leonard has made police oversight one of his major goals this year. Is he stepping on your toes?

I’ve never regarded that as stepping on my toes. The entire City Council and the auditor were involved in creating a police oversight system, and I think that’s as it should be.

How closely do you work with Adams on police issues?

He’s not closely involved, because I’m the police commissioner.... I think the whole point of me being police commissioner is to be police commissioner. I think he recognizes that. He probably likes it that way. [Adams said at a Feb. 16 news conference he would become more involved with police issues because of the Campbell controversy.]

Do you ever regret taking the job?

Oh yeah, sure. [Laughs] There’s been some pretty dark moments in the last year. It’s not that I regret taking on the job. Part of the job is challenging, and I like challenges. But yeah, I was probably a little naive as to what I was really, fully getting myself into when Sam asked me to be police commissioner.

 
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