Mike Reese, the commander of East Precinct, said he got a call from the mayor at about 10 in the morning on Tuesday last week.
Mayor Sam Adams was having a very public dispute with Police Chief Rosie Sizer, and wanted to take the bureau in a new direction and solicited his thoughts on the matter.
Later that evening, Reese said he got a call from the mayor who offered him Sizer’s job.
Reese has his work cut out for him. Tensions have been high between the community and the police in the wake of several high-profile shootings that left Portlanders dead by an officer’s shot. In his first week on the job, Reese has tried to strike a conciliatory tone with a public that seems to know little about him.
So far reactions range from uncertainty to optimism.
“I don’t know him very well,” said Jason Renaud, a co-founder of the Mental Health Association of Portland, who made a short-lived run for City Hall on a platform of reforming the Police Bureau.
“We don’t know much about him,” said Ron Williams, the interim executive director of the civil rights group Oregon Action.
In announcing Reese’s appointment, Adams recognized that the strained community-police relations stating at a press conference that he realized that police are often the first-responders to situations that have been unaddressed by the fraying social safety net.
“My incoming police chief understands this reality better than perhaps anybody,” said Adams in a statement.
Reese a graduate of Roosevelt High School and Portland State University, began his career in 1983 as a counselor, program manager, and later direct for the Boys and Girls Club in Lents.
In 1989, he made a career switch, becoming a patrol deputy with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. He transferred to the Police Bureau in 1994, working his way up to become captain of the Drugs and Vice Division and later Central Precinct commander. Earlier this year, he was made commander of the East Precinct, the largest of the three police precincts.
At a press conference last week, he stated that he would actively engage the community it serves, and encourage officers to take a more “holistic approach” to their jobs that involves more than just locking people up.
“You try to look for creative solutions that don’t require law enforcement,” he said.
However, Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch said that Reese oversaw several practices while commander at Central Precinct that give him pause.
“The problem is we’ve got this rickety old bus, and changing drivers isn’t going to change that,” he said of the new chief.
He points out that while commander of Central Precinct Reese favored the controversial “Sit/Lie” ordinance that made it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks, and was seen by critics as criminalizing homelessness.
Handelman said that after the ordinance was ruled unconstitutional, the police began using new tactics to target people deemed a nuisance by the business community. Police began conducting undercover stings to nab people on minor infractions like littering, in hopes of charging them with more serious offences, like possession of drugs.
Reese also most likely signed off on a controversial list kept by the city on frequent offenders who were targeted for different treatment, said Handelman.
The new chief, who lives in southwest Portland, also plays in a band, “Usual Suspects”, with Mike Kuykendall, the vice-president of the Portland Business Alliance, which has been the driving force behind the sit/lie ordinance.
“Yeah, I think that’s something to be worried about,” said Handelman about their cozy relationship.
During a press conference on Monday, sponsored by the Albina Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of black churches, Rev. Leroy Haynes, vice president of the alliance, said that his group was disappointed that the mayor did not solicit more public input on such an important decision.
He did note that the AMA was eager to work with the new chief.
But others, like Valerie Chapman, the pastoral administrator at St. Francis, are optimistic about Reese.
Late last fall, several uniformed police officers barged into the churches dining hall accompanied by a television crew from the show “Cops” looking for a suspect. The dining hall was considered a sanctuary for down-and-out populations often distrustful of law enforcement, and there was a deep sense of violation at the church, said Chapman.
Reese, then commander at Central Precinct, paid a visit to the dining hall in plain clothes with a captain to talk about the incident, said Chapman, and immediately apologized for the incident. The discussion with diners turned to other issues, like where to camp and previous interactions with police.
“I think they felt heard,” said Chapman. “It was a nice ending.”