Next month, Leslie Stevens will become the new director for Portland's Independent Police Review division, a job that will require her to balance oversight of cops with fairness to those same officers. Stevens, an assistant city attorney in Salem for the past eight years, was appointed to the $91,000-a-year police-watchdog post last week by city auditor Gary Blackmer.
WW asked Stevens, 39, why we should trust someone who has defended cops in Salem to be the one policing Portland's police, and what her personal history is with cops and crime.
WW: What qualifies you for this position?
Leslie Stevens: I've spent the last eight years advising the police department, including the Internal Affairs commission in Salem, and our human-resources department on labor and employment issues. I've also got about 10 years' experience defending the city and police officers from claims.
How can you earn the trust of Portlanders who want someone with experience prosecuting officers?
Well, that just happens to be what my current job is. If my current position had been prosecuting police officers, I would have done that equally as zealously. I don't have any predetermined ideas. It will just be a matter of earning the citizens of Portland's trust.
What's your interaction with police now?
I do a little bit of everything. I have assisted with investigations and with employee discipline and termination issues. But I do a lot more than that. When statutes come out, I help police understand what their rights, liabilities and limitations are. I do some training with new police recruits. I've reviewed police policies from use of force to grooming standards.
What do you make of Portland's police bureau?
I'll reserve judgment until I actually get in there and see what's going on. But I don't see that it's got some of the issues that some of the larger and more problematic police departments have in other parts of the country.
Do you think grand-jury records in police shootings should be made public?
I think the grand-jury proceedings and the statutes governing them should be honored. And generally grand-jury proceedings are secret for a variety of reasons and have been for years. I think there are ways to handle public inquiries for information outside of the grand-jury proceedings.
Are you suggesting the creation of a different investigation process for police shootings?
Sure, I think that would be something to be raised.
What got you interested in police issues?
I enjoy public service, and I like this area of the law. It's interesting, it's changing. It's an area where you can make a practical and immediate difference.
What would be the one thing you'd say needs to be fixed with policing?
I wouldn't say that it needs to be fixed or changed, but there's always room for improvement with community interaction and education. I think police work is difficult and different from the work that most people do, and I think that communication is key. The more information people have and share, the better the system will work.
Do you think racial profiling happens in Oregon?
Probably. I can't say that I have any firsthand experience with it, but then again I am a 39-year-old white woman. I believe that certainly people believe it exists and there's probably evidence of it.
Any cops or criminals in your family?
My brother-in-law is a Beverly Hills police officer. I have a cousin who's had a meth problem. He had some criminal non-payment for child support, although I'm not sure if he had criminal charges brought against him or not.
Have you ever been arrested?
What's your worst offense?
I have one traffic ticket, and that's it. I was cited for speeding and went to traffic school.
Ever had a bad experience with a cop?
Maybe an unpleasant one. When I was in college and was driving an inebriated friend home, I pulled out of the parking lot and forgot to turn my lights on. A cop pulled me over and demanded that I get out of the car, notwithstanding that I was in my pajamas, and I had to stand on the side of the road in my bare feet and chat with him.
Portland's Independent Police Review division was created in 2001 and is responsible for reviewing citizen appeals on cases of alleged police misconduct that have been dismissed by the Internal Affairs division.
Stevens will replace Richard Rosenthal, who leaves June 30 after three and a half years to become Denver's new police monitor.
Stevens was born in Southern California and went to law school at Lewis & Clark. She has been in Oregon since 1991