Following more than a week of massive demonstrations that have challenged political leaders to address systemic racism, Portland Police Chief Jami Resch announced Monday she is stepping down from the bureau’s top role.
Protests and demands for changes to policing have grown across Portland since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed by a police officer who pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Speaking Monday, Resch said she had made the decision to leave her post. She said she called the mayor Sunday to ask for his support -- and to suggest that he name Lt. Chuck Lovell as the city's new chief.
Resch, who has been with the department for more than 20 years but has only been the chief since early January, said Lovell’s ascension to leadership was a much-needed change at the Portland Police Bureau.
“He is the exact right person at the exact right moment,” she said.
Resch said she will be staying within the Portland Police Bureau, but does not yet know in what role.
“To say this was unexpected, would be an understatement,” said Lovell, an 18-year veteran who is now the city’s fourth Black police chief.
He offered a conciliatory message between protesters and police, stressing that police officers also care about the future of Oregon.
“We have to remember when they don’t have those uniforms on, they’re our community members. They’re sitting next to us in church, they’re dropping their kids off at the same schools our kids go to. They’re behind us in line at the grocery store,” he said. “And we can never lose sight of the fact that there are way more good police officers then there are bad ones.”
Lovell said he hoped the police and the community could join together to change institutional disregard for human life that led to Floyd’s death and to build trust.
Lovell and Mayor Ted Wheeler did not announce any policy changes Monday, but the mayor said he would be releasing further “financial policy and legislative items” impacting Portland Police Bureau on Tuesday. City Council members will resume debate on the 2020-21 budget this week.
“I want Portlanders to know, I share your concerns, and will move forth with the urgency that you expect,” Wheeler said.
In the past week, calls have mounted for the city to defund some of its police specialty units, which many in the community feel disproportionately target people of color.
Last week, Portland Public Schools also announced it would be ending its contract with police to have school resource officers in its buildings. That money would instead be used for services to support students, according to Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero. Lovell had previously been a school resource officer at Jefferson High School. Shortly after the PPS announcement, Wheeler said he was ending the school resource officer program in three city districts.
Activists have also called on the city to end the Gun Violence Reduction Team and the Transit Police, and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty says she will do that when the council consider the budget again Wednesday.
On Monday, community members who have a history with the new chief gushed about his appointment.
Ron Herndon, the director of Albina Head Start, said Lovell had helped him repeatedly in the past maintain a safe environment for the children at his workplace when others were unavailable.
“That’s my view of the new chief: A person who not only cares, but he acts,” Herndon said. “And he wasn’t acting for the children of some large corporation. He was acting for some of the children that this city and this country pay very little attention to.”
Herman Greene, a pastor at a North Portland church, called the appointment “a tipping point.”
“Today, the community got what it needed,” Greene said. “We didn’t need to look outside to find somebody to come and help us, because everything we need is already in our community.”
But other activists said Monday that hiring a new chief is not enough.
In a statement, Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chair of Portland Democratic Socialists of America, said while that the group was glad to see Resch’s resignation, it means little in the means of real reform.
“This is an entirely superficial change that will not fundamentally alter the institution of policing in Portland,” Katbi Smith wrote. “That will not be achieved until a real commitment is made to begin defunding, disarming, and disbanding the police department ... Former Chief Resch’s resignation does signal that the massive uprising in the streets is successful in wearing down the police, and we encourage everyone involved in the uprisings to press forward even more determinedly now.”
Katbi Smith said past leadership changes at the bureau have led to changes that are “so negligible as to be meaningless.”
The Portland African American Leadership Forum and Unite Oregon, two groups advocating for city leaders to defund and dismantle the police bureau, warned in a statement that the police violence that had spurred the protests could not "be wished away with a staffing change"
"City leaders such as Mayor Ted Wheeler are hailing this change in leadership as a momentous occasion for police accountability in Portland," the statement read. "We are not fooled. It does not matter who serves as Chief of the Portland Police Bureau ... because police are the problem."
Asked Monday whether the change in leadership would lead to a change in how Portland officers police the protests, Lovell declined to get into specifics.
“In very general terms, change is coming,” he said.