Chief Danielle Outlaw, who led the Portland Police Bureau for a little more than two years, is leaving to serve as the Police Commissioner for the City of Philadelphia.
Outlaw was the first African American woman to lead the police bureau in Portland and will also become the first African American woman to lead the much larger Philadelphia police force.
Philadelphia’s police department is the fourth-largest in the nation, with a police force greater than 6,500, compared to Portland’s 1000-member force. Mayor Ted Wheeler congratulated Outlaw in a statement calling her new position a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Outlaw’s last day with the city of Portland will be Tuesday. Wheeler announced Deputy Chief of Police Jami Resch will serve as the next police chief.
Outlaw said in a statement there is never “an ideal time to transition on to our next role in life,” but she added, she’s leaving the transition “on good terms” and is confident Resch will serve as a strong leader.
Daryl Turner, the president of the Portland Police Association, said he first heard about Outlaw’s departure early Monday morning, along with the rest of the city. He said that while he was surprised to hear Outlaw was departing so soon, it did not come as a shock that she had caught the attention of the fourth largest police force in the nation.
“As Portland has been in the national spotlight for the last year or so, obviously that puts a spotlight on the chief of police and how they react to those issues. And I think, nationally, that was seen as a positive for Chief Outlaw,” he said.
Asked about what he saw as Outlaw’s largest accomplishments over her two years, Turner said he was most impressed by her ability to maintain “the same level of service” while the bureau continued to be plagued with severe staffing shortages.
In her short tenure, Outlaw found herself in the midst of controversy more than once. In one, friendly text messages between a police lieutenant and Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson surfaced, prompting criticism from the mayor and some commissioners. An investigation eventually cleared the officer at the center of the controversy, noting he was doing his job by cultivating a relationship with the right-wing group organizer.
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty who has criticized the police force, most recently questioning why officers targeted two black protesters in a crowd of student activists in September, called Outlaw a “visionary leader.”
“As an outsider, being asked to change the culture of the Portland Police Bureau required a herculean effort, as well as a support team which I fear she never found,” Hardesty said in a statement, adding later, “While I appreciate the work done by Chief Outlaw, the fact remains that Chiefs will come and go – but it is the culture they leave behind that matters most to our community. There is still much work to be done to make PPB the organization we need it to be, and I look forward to working with Chief Resch as she takes on this charge.”
Dan Handelman, leader of advocacy group Portland Copwatch, said he believed Resch made an “unusual” pick for police chief, as she had quickly risen through the ranks. But he also said it was important to get the position filled and not leave more instability with the bureau.
“I think one of the problems both for the officers and for the community is the instability that we have at the Bureau,” he said. “We’ve been at this for 28 years and I’ve lost count of how many chiefs there have been.”
There have been 11 police chiefs since 1990 – not including soon-to-be chief Resch. Handelman said Outlaw stood out from her predecessors in meeting with CopWatch six times over her tenure – triple the rate of her predecessors.
But Handelman said he’d been disappointed not to see more progress when it came to the bureau’s treatment of people with mental health issues. He pointed to the recent death of 51-year-old-Koben Henriksen, who was fatally shot last month by police and suffered from schizophrenia, and the statement made by Outlaw after in which she said the case “highlights the systemic failures of the mental health system, which continues to recycle individuals rather than resolve the underlying issues.”
“It was almost identical to what chief [Rosie] Sizer said after James Chasse was killed in 2006, blaming the mental health system for the behavior of the officers that caused the death of a community member,” said Handelman. “And so it brings us back 13 years to be back in the same place. You know, I’m still blaming others for what the police are doing. So I’m not sure how much of lasting legacy that is.”
Before arriving in Portland, Outlaw was the deputy chief in Oakland, California for four years. Outlaw is from Oakland, and worked her way up from patrol officer to a deputy chief in charge of more than 400 people. She served nearly 20 years with the Oakland Police Department. Now, she’s reported to be leaving a job she had told reporters she was committed to for the long haul.
Her replacement, Resch, has been with the Portland Police Bureau for two decades and has been serving as deputy chief since May of this year. In a tweet Monday, Wheeler called Resch “well-respected, trusted” and said he looked forward to her leadership.
In a statement, Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone wrote that she was alarmed Wheeler had named Outlaw’s successor so quickly.
“I’ve been a vocal critic of Wheeler’s staffing choices throughout his administration, so it’s difficult for me to trust his snap judgment in this instance,” she wrote. “In the hiring of the last chief, Wheeler promised Portlanders a transparent process which we did not get; it’s not clear to me how this is an improvement over that.”
Outlaw will begin her new role in February. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Outlaw was picked after a four-month search in which more than 30 candidates were considered.
The Philadelphia police force has been marred by scandal in recent years. Kenney said Outlaw was chosen because he is convinced she has the conviction and compassion to bring much-needed reforms to his police force.
“With our support, she will tackle a host of difficult issues, from racism and gender discrimination, to horrid instances of sexual assault on fellow officers,” Kenney said in a statement. “These are issues that too often negatively impact women – especially women of color – within the Department. Commissioner Outlaw will implement reforms with urgency, so that racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination are not tolerated.”
Outlaw has a bachelor’s of arts in sociology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University.
This is a developing story and will be updated.