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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chief Rosie Sizer On Think Out Loud

Posted by Matt Davis on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 9:07 AM

Police Chief Rosie Sizer has taken up the incredible challenge [joke] of facing Emily Harris on OPB's Think Out Loud this morning. I'll be tweeting the show with the hashtag #opbsoftballs, but if you don't have time to waste, [listen live here] I'll do a roundup on Blogtown in an hour.

Perhaps most depressingly, I feel like I could write Sizer's lines without even listening to the show. Let's play talking points Bingo! 1.We're not perfect. 2.Media "coalesces" around tragedy. 3.Training Center! 3.Use of force down 54% last six years compared to previous six years. 4.Officers have tough jobs—have you ever been in a shooting situation? 5.Yadda yadda yadda.

I'll be looking for Sizer to deviate from her talking points and express genuine, sincere remorse over the shooting. That's Harris's responsibility as a broadcaster, I feel, to push her on these points. Because Emily, make no mistake, Chief Sizer isn't going to submit to a podcast at the Mercury any time soon. Update, 9:59am Roundup is after the jump—they even mentioned this live blog on the air, and it almost got interesting for a second...

Sizer began by focusing on her new use of force policy, saying that "there's a difference between what the community expects and what the law allows." Harris asked the chief "what [she was] trying to fix" with her new use of force policy, instituted in 2008. The overall use of force was reduced in 2009, and injuries to officers were also down, said the chief. "It's rather a, I think a crowning achievement," she said.

An online commenter asked why cops shoot to kill. "Our training is to shoot to stop a threat," said the chief. "And so if the threat stops, we are happy." "Under stress and in fast evolving circumstances, we generally shoot for the torso," she said, adding that TV had led to unrealistic expectations about officers being able to shoot a gun out of a suspect's hand. Harris pushed the chief on this: How is stopping the threat different from shooting to kill? "Our object is not to kill somebody," said the chief. "It's to stop the threat."

Harris asked the chief to relate an incident where she had to pull her gun.

"I have been fortunate in never having used deadly force," said the chief. "There was a woman one night, I stood between her and her heroin, and she ran me over, and she struck me twice. I was younger and I was able to avoid serious injury. I didn't have at that point the mental wherewithal to take my gun and fire at her accurately, but my partner fired at her, she sped away and was arrested the next day."

"My husband was involved in a fatal shooting earlier in his career," Sizer continued. "I think what it is difficult for people who are not police officers to understand is the rapidity and unexpectedness of these incidents. As a leader you have months to review these encounters, but they happen incredibly fast, and often what you do is part instinct and part training."

Is that what Sizer brings to her review of the Campbell case, asked Harris? "We need an exhaustive review," said the chief. What may have gone wrong, asked Harris? "I'm going to dodge that question to a certain extent, because I don't have the liberty of speculating," said the Chief. "The clearest thing that I regret is that we had not purchased ballistic shields so that having shot Aaron Campbell we were delayed in approaching him because we could not see his hands."

Why weren't the SERT officers called to the scene that day? "I don't know that I can answer in great detail in this circumstance," said the chief. "But I can say that when we have a person barricaded inside a residence or vehicle, uniformed officers set up a containment and then attempt to communicate with the suspect to get them to come out. We do that routinely, we did it yesterday with an armed suicidal woman, and so that's been our practice, it works extremely well in almost all circumstances. This case is going to give us an opportunity to review whether we should change that practise, and if so, what would be the cost of doing that?"

William from Manzanita—a former cop, who worked with Sizer's husband in the 1970s—said he doesn't remember shooting an unarmed suspect. "You predate me," said Sizer. "That history is in archives and it's fairly inaccessible. I think the system we have now for analyzing data is much better than it was circa 1975."

William from Manzanita said that "our training was that if we did not see a weapon we would not shoot—we didn't feel like we needed to overreact if we never saw a weapon. I want to know why police officers are shooting people without guns now when for 20 years, as far as I know, we never did it."

"His information may or may not be accurate," said Sizer. "But I do know that we are encountering people with guns at a far higher rate in 2010. There's a proliferation of assault rifles and handguns in a way that I think 20, 30, 40 years ago we didn't see."

Why can't a "gentle, calming voice" diffuse a situation? "It's a big part of our training," said Sizer. "Communications is a big part of our job." She repeated the 400,000 calls for service stat, and 3% of arrests involving use of force. "We lead with our voices, we lead with persuasion, but it is far less than people think. People tend to grab the headlines," she said.

Harris said there are some "voices in the community" who are being critical of Sizer's calls for a new training center—"let's not use the Campbell shooting" to call for it, Harris says they are saying.

"One of the problems with the incident seemed to be a lack of coordination," said Sizer. "To get that degree of coordination, you need to train to that degree of coordination."

How much of the police training offered to citizens and the media is "pure PR," asked Harris?

"It's not intended to be PR, it's intended to give community members a better sense of what it's like to do the job," said Sizer. "I sometimes feel as though we're expected to give public safety services by immaculate conception, and I think the better people are able to see the gritty side of the job, the farther along we are in that conversation with the community."

Is there a psychology test to identity bad apples, asked another listener.

"We put applicants through rigorous testing," said Sizer. "Applicants are psychologically screened, and some of the things the psychologist is looking at, does this candidate appear to be someone who would abuse their authority? Similarly, does this seem to be someone who might be paralyzed under stress and unable to make a decision? I wanted to get polygraphs as well, but haven't prevailed at the legislature...That doesn't screen out every bad apple, but I think most police bureaus do the best job to screen for the best candidates."

"We are highly desirous of having a more diverse police department," said Sizer. "We're particularly interested in attracting Latino and African American candidates. We're also very much interested in female officers, too."

Sizer said a person with high integrity and a good sense of humor, also caring and compassionate, is the ideal police officer.

The ninth circuit court of appeals is currently reviewing whether force should be "objectively reasonable given the totality of circumstance."

"We try to manage the use of force so that it's not only a question of can you use the use of force, but should you use it?" said Sizer.

"But there's concern in the community that the answer seems always to be yes," said Harris.

"But I think reasonableness is not a bad standard," said Sizer. "I think the real question you're touching on is how much risk do you want officers to tolerate before they use force. And I think the question is are you willing to assume responsibility for the decision if an officer dies?"

"And those are policies you don't want," said Harris.

"I'm not willing to go there," the chief responded.

Cynthia from Fairview said she thought Chief Sizer has been a good role model for the bureau. But she asked what is being done to help officers cope with stress?

Sizer mentioned the bureau's Employee Assistance Service, peer support, "if officers see police officers manifesting signs of stress, then they can intervene. We also have resources available for officers to see psychologists. I think as a profession, the profession is more open to receiving those services than when I joined in 1985."

How would Sizer describe her relationship with the rank and file and the police union?

"Complicated," said Sizer. "It is a complicated relationship. I'm the 12th police chief, in the 25 years of my career, and I've been chief for almost 4 years. Portland Police Chiefs don't last very long."

"I think the expectation from some members of my work force is that I affirm what they do almost regardless of what they do, and those things put stress on my position," said Sizer.

The Portland Mercury is liveblogging this conversation, said one of the hosts. And they want you to express "genuine sincere remorse." Do you?

"I think I've already stated at one of the press events, I regret that Aaron Campbell died. I think we as an agency regret it. I think our goal is always to have an outcome where people walk away," said Sizer.

Is that sincere, genuine remorse, asked Harris?

"I don't know. I would ask you to say," said Sizer.

Harris: "That's what the Portland Mercury was asking for in their live-blogging of this conversation."

I'll give you 6 out of 10 for backbone there, Harris, but you could have pushed her on it. She's not going to shoot you.

On racial profiling? "None of these grassroots efforts to repair relations get reported very prominently," said Sizer.

Harris asked Sizer why she discontinued the Chief's Forum.

"It had been initiated by Tom Potter when he was police chief, it was discontinued by me, it had, I think, expired in terms of its life cycle and was less useful as it was as a round table than it was 15 years before," said Sizer. "Fortunately we have other forums to engage with the community including the community/police relations committee. We have advisory committees for the African American, Muslim and Sexual Minority communities."

"I don't feel the full burden is with me," said Sizer. "I expect my subordinates to build good relationships with the community as well."

Sizer said a "small minority" of Portland Police officers live in the city. "There are a number of factors that contribute to that," she said. A residency requirement expired in the late 1980s. "Given the stresses of the job, many members choose to live away from their work. I have known police officers who have been threatened in the grocery store, and then finally as housing prices have increased in the city, it's often a case of you can buy more house if you're willing to tolerate a longer commute."

Wrapping up, Sizer said she'd like to continue to work incrementally to improve the relationship with the police bureau.

"I think people are in search of magic, the one thing that is going to change everything, and I don't think it's one thing, I think it's lots of little things," she said.

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