Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has chosen a new police chief, fulfilling a promise he made shortly after he took office.
He has offered the position to Danielle Outlaw, 41, a deputy chief in the Oakland Police Department.
It is the first time in more than a decade an outsider will lead the Portland police force. The past four chiefs all rose from within the ranks of the Portland Police Bureau. Outlaw will also be the first African-American woman to serve as Portland’s chief.
Outlaw is a 19-year veteran of the Oakland Police Department, where she served as a deputy chief since 2013.
“I’m thoroughly happy with Danielle Outlaw and the wealth of experience that she brings in both doing law enforcement work and also work around accountability and reform and implementation in the Oakland Department,” said T. Allen Bethel, co-chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.
Bethel served on the interview committee that recommended finalists to the mayor.
“She is clearly a first-rate police officer and she is somebody who I think will take time to get the community and understand the concerns of the community,” said Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance.
McDonough, who also sat on the interview committee, says she was struck when Outlaw spoke about being a mother.
“She spoke about how she feels when her sons get in a car and drive away and what she thinks about what their experience will be with police and with the community,” McDonough said. “As a parent that resonated with me and it spoke to me about the empathy that she will bring to all of Portland.”
Even some of Wheeler’s harshest critics on the left said they are “cautiously optimistic” about the new chief.
“We want to acknowledge the courage it took for Ted Wheeler to stand up to the Portland Police Association, one of the most powerful political forces in Portland,” said Gregory McKelvey, an activist with the group Portland’s Resistance.
Outlaw inherits an agency facing two major issues: Recruiting challenges that have led to a significant staffing shortage as well as implementing reforms required by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Outlaw worked in various assignments throughout the Oakland Police Department, including patrol, community services, the Office of Chief of Police, the Criminal Investigation Division, Internal Affairs and the Office of Inspector General, according to a biography provided by Wheeler’s spokesman.
Outlaw has a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University.
Wheeler says Outlaw will start in her new role no later than October, contingent on her passing a background check.
While many praised Wheeler’s hire, the reaction from the city’s police union was muted.
“She has large shoes to fill,” said Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner.
The union supported outgoing Chief Mike Marshman and publicly opposed the mayor’s national search for a new chief.
Outlaw comes from a department that’s been rocked by turmoil.
In 2016, the Oakland Police Department went through three chiefs in nine days stemming, in part, from a sex scandal involving more than a dozen officers.
Like Portland, the Oakland Police Department has been under court orders to improve transparency and accountability when officers use force.
Both on the campaign trail and in office, Wheeler promised reforming the police bureau would be a top priority, with a focus on improving the bureau’s relationship with Portland’s black community and other communities of color.
The mayor said Outlaw shares those priorities.
“I need a partner. I need a leader,” Wheeler said in a press release. “More than that, I need someone with a passion for this work who will be in it for the long haul. Danielle Outlaw is that person.”
Early in his tenure as mayor, Wheeler has struggled to advance his agenda of improving community relations amid events in Portland that have escalated tensions between police and minority communities.
In February, an officer shot and killed Quanice Hayes, an African-American 17-year-old carrying a fake gun. In July, Assistant Chief Kevin Modica, the city’s highest ranking African-American officer, was forced out. Most recently, Wheeler has faced an ongoing controversy over whether the city can compel officers to testify within the first 48 hours after they use deadly force.
Wheeler interviewed four finalists for the chief position in person last month.
Current Chief Mike Marshman had competed to keep his job. He announced his retirement minutes after Wheeler named Outlaw as his pick.
“It has been an honor to serve as Chief of Police and to serve this community throughout my career,” Marshman said. “I’m confident that the Portland Police Bureau will continue to be a leader in 21st century policing and the community should rest easy knowing they have one of the best police departments in the country.”
Assistant Chief Chris Uehara was named Interim Chief until Outlaw is appointed to the Bureau.
Wheeler said he planned to keep Marshman on the job while conducting a national search for the city’s next chief.
Marshman previously served as the bureau’s liaison to the federal Department of Justice. He was charged with managing the implementation of the city’s settlement with the DOJ over excessive police use of force.
Turner, the PPA president, said he will miss Marshman and wished him well.
“Mike Marshman took an organization in more turmoil than it had been in a quarter century, a ship that was running aground and got it turned around back toward the horizon,” Turner said. “Morale was very low. Morale is up. He brought stability to the organization, legitimacy to the organization.”
Wheeler has the authority to unilaterally hire the police bureau’s next chief, but throughout the process, he has called on city staff and community members to narrow down the list of about 30 applicants.
Six candidates were interviewed by about 20 community members. The panel included representatives from the Lents neighborhood, advocates for the homeless and mentally ill, the head of the city’s police union and representatives of the city’s business community.
The largest constituency on the interview panel represented Portland’s communities of color and included the leaders and board members from the NAACP, the Urban League, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform and the Latino Network.