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June 1st, 2005 Angela Valdez | News Stories
 

A CHIEF CHECKUP

WW takes stock of Police Chief Derrick Foxworth.

     
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It's not Derrick Foxworth's birthday, and his one-year anniversary as police chief passed months ago with little fanfare.

But we thought the 46-year-old chief deserved a checkup anyway, as he deals with the year's fifth officer-involved shooting and after City Hall rejected his advice that Portland stay in a joint terrorism task force with the FBI.

About 21 months into the job, Foxworth has stilled the turbulent waters of police-community relations that Mark Kroeker stirred up before getting booted as chief.

Foxworth makes his moves in private-not in the press-unless forced into the spotlight, as with the JTTF. His greatest strength may lie in minding the little details that keep the bureau out of trouble-like training and record-keeping.

Here are five categories to assess his performance:

Community Policing

Community policing is supposed to prevent crime by building relationships between citizens and police. But critics-including some cops-say the bureau's long-touted commitment to the policy is declining. They cite a style of officer supervision that emphasizes data over problem-solving.

In East Precinct, for example, Commander Greg Hendricks keeps a bulletin board pinned with charts ranking officers according to several statistics, including their numbers of arrests, traffic stops and citations. Hendricks' "wall of shame," as officers call it, is a response to an order by Assistant Chief Stan Grubbs that each precinct devise a way of tracking performance using the computerized dispatch system.

If community policing is about relationships, says Officer Tom Mack, a former union vice president, the stats "miss all of that." There are hints that Mayor Tom Potter-a community-policing disciple before, during and after his time as chief-shares Mack's view. During the budget debate, the mayor chided the chief-his flack when Potter was chief in the early '90s-for suggesting cuts to programs central to community policing.

Snap judgment: We have yet to hear a good definition of community policing, let alone how to measure it-but we're pretty sure it has nothing to do with traffic stops.

Morale

Measuring morale problems among police is like measuring hunger among African lions. There's always at least a rumble of discontent (see the last round of arbitrated contract talks for proof).

For the most part, Foxworth has avoided outright revolt among the ranks. He has protected the so-called "4-10,'' a popular shift made up of four 10-hour days, from belt-tighteners in the bureau and at City Hall. Discontent often gets directed to the three assistant chiefs, especially Grubbs, a detail-oriented administrator with a reputation for micromanagement. One person close to the bureau described Grubbs as "Derrick's Darth Vader."

Snap judgment: It's no surprise to hear cops groan when they're put under closer supervision. And while it makes sense to keep track of what happens on patrol, they probably have a point that tallying tickets is more hassle than it's worth.

Training

Foxworth has extended the city's police academy from 14 to 17 weeks and found an extra $95,000 to resume a 40-hour yearly in-service training requirement for all officers. The $560,000 total program, with courses on everything from taser technique to cultural competency, was cut back in 2000. The chief is also fine-tuning the instructions cops get on how to do their jobs. A new use-of-force policy, due this summer, will bar police from shooting at fleeing cars and require all on-duty officers to carry a taser.

Snap judgment: Foxworth boasts about his training policy, and for good reason. Better preparation means cops are less likely to do the wrong thing.

Discipline

Foxworth OKed six terminations in 2004, the most firings in a year in recent memory (though one officer was reinstated). While many stem from investigations begun during Kroeker's term, Foxworth's decision to let the axe fall each time showed he's willing to come down on rule-breaking cops. His administration has also made it clear that promotions aren't free rides anymore. The one-year probationary period is being taken seriously for the first time in years-several new sergeants and one lieutenant have been bumped back down to their previous positions. Police-union president Robert King says Foxworth has been "reasonable" and "responsive" in his approach to meting out punishment.

Others on the force say discipline gets delivered unevenly. The peanut gallery cites the proposed firing of Edgar Mitchell, a well-respected officer who got caught driving drunk (a New Year's accident with another intoxicated driver). Other cops have been slapped with DUIs without getting canned.

Snap judgment: Despite a process that's painfully slow (an average termination takes over a year to finalize) and about as transparent as pea soup, most cops agree that Foxworth's disciplinary crackdown was long overdue.

External Relations

Foxworth impressed community groups like the Albina Ministerial Alliance, which has criticized the bureau after past police shootings, by formalizing procedure after officer-involved shootings. Police are given gag orders immediately after shootings. They are also separated from other officers and placed on administrative leave, steps that, according to the alliance, used to take up to 24 hours.

In addition, the chief launched two new review boards with citizen members: a performance review board and a use-of-force review board. Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch says Foxworth's "tenure so far has been a mixed bag but, generally speaking, very much better than Chief Kroeker in terms of openness to the public and openness to making some changes."

Snap judgment: By steering clear of public confrontations and working internally to prevent embarrassments, Foxworth has quieted, if not completely silenced, the bureau's critics.

 
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