Sizer Matters

Cops' recent blowup with their chief surprised many. Here's why it shouldn't have.

In her 3 1/2 years as Portland police chief, Rosie Sizer has been called many things.

Sizer once joked in a City Club speech she'd been called the B-word too many times to count. But she has also been praised as a transformative leader, a gifted communicator, a role model to women and a champion for minority rights.

Confident, eloquent and politically astute, Sizer was a fresh breeze after three failed chiefs before her. On issues like racial profiling and use of force, she proved adept at sounding the right notes in a liberal city often wary of its police.

The Oregonian editorial board nurses an enduring love affair with the chief. "Deft, diplomatic and popular, both outside and inside the bureau," the paper gushed in 2008. "Widely considered Portland's best chief in a generation," columnist Anna Griffin recently wrote.

"She doesn't have negatives," says Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University. "When you talk to people around town…the consensus is that Rosie Sizer has done a good job."

So there was a fair amount of head-scratching Nov. 24 when 650 enraged cops and their supporters formed a sea of blue and rallied in front of City Hall.

The cops' targets: Dan Saltzman, the city commissioner in charge of the police, and Sizer herself. At issue was the lack of support by Sizer and Saltzman for Officer Chris Humphreys, who used a beanbag gun Nov. 14 on a 12-year-old girl who was violently resisting arrest. Saltzman stripped Humphreys of his badge pending an investigation, and Sizer provided Saltzman political cover, saying she was "troubled" after watching a video of the shooting.

To many Portlanders, Sizer's statement seemed reasonable, even banal. But to many of the 1,000 cops charged with protecting citizens' lives and property, it was an enormous betrayal.

Two weeks ago, police held an election, a secret ballot that polled whether officers had confidence in Saltzman and Sizer. Sizer became only the second chief in 28 years to face such a no-confidence vote.

It was a show of force that revealed the full clout of the police union, and on the day the results were to be released, the commish backed down. Humphreys was reinstated to a desk job. As a sop, the union withheld releasing the results of its vote.

To the public at large, the cop rally and the no-confidence vote seemed like a freak occurrence centered on one controversial incident. In fact, it was a crisis that had long been building within the Police Bureau.

Interviews with more than 20 current and former cops reveal that the march and no-confidence vote were as much about Sizer as they were about Saltzman—the culmination of years of simmering tensions between rank-and-file cops and the chief.

To understand how far Sizer has fallen in the troops' eyes, consider Officer Mike Stradley.

A 23-year veteran who teaches at the advanced training academy, Stradley is one of the most respected officers on the force. His loyalty and commitment to improving the Police Bureau are unquestioned.

On Nov. 19, for the first time in his career, Stradley stood up at roll call. In front of Assistant Chief Brian Martinek, Stradley said he could no longer tell the young officers who look up to him that they can depend on the chief's office for support. Word of Stradley's stand soon spread throughout the Police Bureau.

Stradley insists he still respects many of Sizer's decisions. But he says it appears she places public perception ahead of her own officers, and that has had a corrosive effect on officers' ability to make the right choices in tough situations.

"There's a sense that even if officers do the right thing, command won't back us up. Not even all command. I'm talking about the chief's office," Stradley tells WW. "You need solid leadership."

For many Portlanders who see Sizer as a force for accessibility and accountability at the Police Bureau, the way Sizer is viewed by many of her own troops is an astonishing reversal.

According to a number of officers, Sizer has actually made the bureau's promotions less transparent. And in a controversial move, Sizer promoted a cop who was disciplined along with Sizer for allegedly covering up a police beat-down on a civilian 2002. Considered a master communicator by the public, Sizer is described by cops as being so disengaged from the rank and file that she's rarely ever seen. Officers have begun making jokes about "Sizer sightings."

"There were high hopes, including mine, when Rosie took the reins," says retired Officer Tom Mack. "Now she's surrounded herself with her own people and stopped listening to anybody else. All indications are that there is no communication."

Sizer declined to comment for this story.

"[She] doesn't wish to communicate about these issues through the media," says Detective Mary Wheat, a bureau spokeswoman.

It's not only police who are puzzled by Sizer's public reputation. The chief who's been lauded as a champion for minorities is viewed by others as damaging the bureau's ties.

Former Chief Tom Potter instituted the Chief's Forum in 1990 as a monthly roundtable where underserved neighborhoods and minorities could have the chief's ear. But Sizer did away with the public meetings last year, when Potter was mayor, saying they were no longer useful.

"Community policing was about putting people at the table who were not at the table before. What she successfully did was wipe the table clean," says Richard Brown, a former member of the Chief's Forum. "I don't know what her connection with the community is. I think when she took over the reins as chief, it began to deteriorate."

Sizer's ties to her own troops have also faded, with last month's historic no-confidence vote as the clearest signal yet of an agency in turmoil.

Putting officers' complaints about Sizer in context dulls some of their edge. Cops are notoriously combative with management, and upcoming contract negotiations next year only add to the tension.

The macho culture of the cop shop makes life more difficult for any female police chief. Sizer is only the second woman to lead the Portland force.

"I really do think it's harder on a woman, and it's unfortunate," says retired Officer Dave Barrios. "I see Rosie as a citizen would see her, and I appreciate her. What the officers see is a picture that's colored very much by the union and by a lot of minor controversies that have come up."

That said, a surprising number of police believe that morale under Sizer has plummeted to historic lows. Almost every cop of the 20-plus WW interviewed said morale has grown worse at the Police Bureau since Sizer took over—far below the high that some officers said came under the gruff but fair Chief Charles Moose.

More than half the cops interviewed went even further, saying morale is the lowest they've ever seen it—lower than the fallout from the 2003 shooting of Kendra James, or the embarrassment of former Chief Derrick Foxworth's pornographic emails.

"To have a rally, to have a vote of no-confidence, that's clearly an indication of where the systemic morale is," says retired Capt. C.W. Jensen. "They're frustrated, they're angry, they're sad."

The risk, Stradley and other officers say, is a decline in public safety as officers lose the nerve to take the initiative.

"Morale is so bad that people are not doing the kind of police work that they used to do," says retired Officer Greg Seamster. "I think she's totally detached about the way police work really is."

Police are not unanimous in their criticism of the chief's leadership. Sizer still has fans among the rank and file. For that matter, plenty of cops blame their low morale on the media.

But in an agency that increasingly resembles a dysfunctional family, even cops who support Sizer are beginning to point to the head of the dinner table.

"If you narrow it down to how people feel about leadership right now, I think they're pretty low," says Officer Pete Taylor. "It's a culmination of a couple of years' worth of [decisions], especially on the issue of use of force and how officers are being portrayed."

For cops in Portland, the past three-plus years have been a litany of bad PR, poor luck and—in their view—public humiliation.

First came allegations of racial profiling, which cops vehemently disputed, followed by a drawn-out public review process. Then came the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr. in police custody, an epic lawsuit and hundreds of disparaging headlines.

Many in the rank and file accuse Sizer of failing to defend them against this perceived onslaught. Yet they note that Sizer has been quick to defend her command staff, which includes everyone above the rank of sergeant.

In 2007, she refused to sign off when then-Mayor Potter moved to fire Lt. Jeff Kaer. And in October, she sent the entire bureau an email to defend Capt. Mark Kruger after a WW story about Kruger's deep interest in Nazi Germany.

"She's been willing to stick up for the upper echelon," Taylor says. "And yet here when you have an officer, she's more than willing to essentially walk away from him."

There are many other reasons Sizer is on some cops' shit list. They may seem reasonable or they may seem petty—but to many of the police who hold enormous sway in this city, this is what matters.

A number of police WW spoke with complained that Sizer has failed during her tenure to provide the small gestures that are symbolically important to cops. One example came two days before Christmas last year, when Officer Bill Shaw was at the scene of a drunken-driving arrest on I-5.

Another drunken driver rear-ended Shaw at about 70 mph, totaling his car and leaving Shaw bleeding badly. Shaw's injuries landed him in the hospital on Christmas Eve. His family was there. So was his precinct commander, Mike Reese.

But from Chief Rosie Sizer's office, not a card or a flower. When Shaw was in a more serious accident in 2004, then-Chief Foxworth was at his bedside.

A month after the drunken-driving accident, Officer Gedemynas Jakubauskas was on patrol when he spotted a house on fire. After dragging an unconscious woman out of the flames, he was treated for smoke inhalation at Adventist Medical Center—but again, there was no call from the chief.

It may seem like a small detail. But cops say such visits matter greatly for officers who put their lives on the line.

"It's something that seems simple, but it just shows that you're appreciated," says Officer John Grable. "For the men and women who go out there every day, it means something."

Another case in point was Sizer's handling of the Chasse case.

First, the bureau took more than three years to reach a decision on discipline in the case—during which the three officers involved and the entire force were left in limbo.

In September, Sizer finally proposed suspending Sgt. Kyle Nice for 40 hours without pay. But instead of Sizer telling the sergeant herself, Nice learned of the decision when a friend called him after hearing about it on the news.

Such examples have made Sizer infamous for her aloofness from officers. Where previous chiefs sent birthday cards, made the rounds at precincts and dropped in for holiday visits at roll call, Sizer does none of these. It's become such a painful issue that in Sizer and Saltzman's peace agreement with the union last month, they promised to spend more face time with the rank and file.

"The perception of the [union] membership is that she's above them," says Sgt. Scott Westerman, head of the police union. "Not just in rank, but that they are not worth her time."

Observers say Sizer's most enduring legacy may be the systemic changes she's made in the way command officers earn promotions.

Before Sizer, cops who were up for promotion took a test, went through an independent assessment center and were ranked on a numerical list with the highest achiever on top. The rankings were public, and the chief had to choose from the top five candidates.

The system was put in place decades ago to avoid cronyism. But ironically, it took a woman to reinstitute the old-boy network. Sizer did away with the system for lieutenants and captains. Now Sizer can pick and choose anyone she likes.

Two of the cops Sizer has singled out for promotion have raised alarm among some officers.

First is David Golliday. A 17-year officer, Golliday was investigated in 2001 after the fiancée of another cop said Golliday grabbed her breasts and reached under her skirt at a Halloween party, and later sent cops to her home to pressure her not to complain.

After a yearlong investigation, Golliday was demoted to sergeant but not charged. In 2006, Sizer quietly gave him back his stripes.

In 2007, Sizer promoted Larry Baird from sergeant to lieutenant. The two have a history because Baird, along with Sizer, was associated with a 2002 scandal long since faded from public memory.

That year, while they were off duty, Officers Grant Bailey and Jason Hampton were arrested for savagely beating another man outside a downtown strip club. The incident came to light only after an officer wrote an anonymous letter to City Hall two weeks later.

The two cops resigned and were ultimately convicted of felony assault. Then-Chief Mark Kroeker disciplined six cops accused of trying to cover up the beating by hiding evidence and quashing an investigation.

One of them was Sizer, then commander of Central Precinct, who was given a letter of reprimand for failing to investigate or follow up on an assistant chief's questions. Another was Baird, a sergeant, who was given a 10-day suspension for going outside the chain of command and failing to relay information, protect evidence and separate the suspects.

The upshot: A number of cops WW spoke with said they believe Baird's promotion was pure cronyism. Others questioned whether Golliday should wear a badge at all, let alone be promoted. None would comment for the record.

No topic upsets cops in Portland as much as the accusation of racial profiling. Police vehemently dispute that race is a factor in their decisions. And rightly or wrongly, Sizer's handling of this political football has deeply offended some officers.

It also shows why some cops refer to Sizer as the "Teflon chief"—adept at positive publicity and avoiding controversy even, critics say, if it requires throwing her officers under the bus.

Following a report in 2006 showing that officers stopped African-American drivers at more than twice the rate as whites, the minority community was up in arms. Sizer managed to assuage the public without ever admitting the problem existed. "I acknowledge the anger," she told a neighborhood forum.

Advocates demanded action, and an advisory group was assembled. In February this year, Sizer rolled out a 36-page report announcing her plan of action. The move brought a flurry of headlines and positive reviews from the minority community.

Today, none of the officers we spoke with could name a single point in Sizer's action plan, except a new requirement to hand out business cards at traffic stops. Otherwise, cops say, the plan was an empty gesture. Sizer satisfied the public, but at the cost of angering officers, who still believe she failed to defend them against the charge of racial profiling.

"The big feeling was that these results came out, and she knew that they were flawed, but she didn't stand up and say that," says Sgt. Ron Berry. "She never really stood up for the officers."

Losing a contract to work security at a discount department store may seem the pettiest of all police complaints. But for working cops, Sizer took away a steady supply of extra cash.

For years, businesses had been paying off-duty cops to provide security for stores and during events. In uniform, they provide a more effective deterrent than rent-a-cops, and their presence reduced theft. The cops were paid overtime, and the businesses reimbursed all costs to the city.

Many businesses took advantage, but the downtown Ross Dress for Less store was the cops' cash cow, keeping a running contract with the city. Officers could work an eight-to-10-hour shift about once a month, in many cases earning $50 an hour or more. More than 100 cops moonlighted for Ross.

It was easy work, with officers paid simply to stand there. It's also the norm elsewhere—Ross Dress for Less told the police union the company holds similar contracts in every major city where it has a downtown store with theft problems.

But Sizer put the kibosh on all such contracts in July, saying it was an improper use of uniformed officers. Five cops WW spoke with mentioned the move, saying some in the force are still bitter at Sizer for taking away the added income.

One of Sizer's early moves as chief was hiring Assistant Chief Martinek, putting him in charge of the operations branch. Today, officers are troubled that Martinek appears to be poised to replace Sizer as chief.

Troubled, because Martinek is perhaps the only person in the bureau more unpopular with the rank and file than Sizer.

Martinek is a veteran of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, where he rose through the ranks under Sizer's husband, then-Sheriff Dan Noelle. In 2001, Martinek moved to the Vancouver Police Department in Washington, where he was named chief in 2003.

Martinek stayed in Vancouver just five years—exactly long enough to become vested in Washington's state retirement system. A number of Vancouver cops say he was a heavy-handed leader who did lasting damage to the department.

"Martinek's autocratic style of leadership set up a continued retaliatory culture we're still dealing with in our department today," says Officer Ryan Martin, head of the Vancouver police union. "If you speak up and try to do the right thing, your career will be compromised. And that all started under Martinek's tenure."

There's no questioning Sizer's political skills.

She survived one of the biggest tragedies in recent city history with Chasse's death, a PR disaster that observers say few previous chiefs could have weathered.

She's one of the only people in recent memory to rout City Commissioner Randy Leonard in a fight. Sizer killed Leonard's ambition to become police commissioner in 2008 by threatening to quit, making her one of the few chiefs to survive a mayoral turnover.

What her future holds is hotly debated in the Police Bureau. Sizer, who is 51, will qualify for full retirement in July—a delay stemming from the fact she was laid off for six months in 1985. There's wild speculation in the Police Bureau whether she'll step down or stay on as chief.

Brown, the former member of the Chief's Forum, doubts Sizer has the community backing, as former Chief Potter did, to run successfully for elective office.

"If the downtown folks love her, I could see her running for mayor," Brown says. "But I don't necessarily think she has endeared herself to the city."

The last time the police union held a vote of no confidence was in 1981, when two officers were fired for throwing dead opossums at the Burger Barn, a black-owned business. Chief Bruce Baker resigned, City Commissioner Charles Jordan lost supervision of the Police Bureau, and the cops were eventually reinstated.

Portland's first female police chief, Penny Harrington, lasted a year and a half before she was ousted in 1986 amid criticism of her management style. As consolation, then-Mayor Bud Clark famously told her, "Tits up!" Harrington later lost a sex-discrimination suit against the city.

Before she took over as interim chief in 2006, Sizer made $103,750 a year as Southeast Precinct commander. Today she makes $183,851. Her pay raises are approved by the police commissioner.

Sizer's husband, former Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Noelle, was a Portland police lieutenant who was promoted to captain soon after Sizer was hired as an officer in 1985. They served together at the Police Bureau for 10 years until Noelle became sheriff.

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