New chief rises up from within PPB
Several years ago, when a Portland Police Bureau lieutenant named Jami Resch spent several evenings visiting services at local mosques during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, it wasn't like other police visits.
Normally an intermediary would call in advance and "create an environment that's kind of sanitized," said Musse Olol of the Somali American Council of Oregon. But in this case, Resch just showed up, meeting and greeting local residents — not just mosque leadership — to talk about the bureau's desire to protect vulnerable communities.
"You don't see that," Olol said of Resch's unorthodox approach. "She has been doing that throughout her career."
Now Resch, 45, takes over as Portland Police chief at a time when the city and its police face many challenges — some longstanding and some of them new. Four days after she was sworn in during a private Dec. 31 ceremony, tensions with Iran flared up following the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian leader. The next day, a Saturday, she attended a meeting of the bureau's Muslim Advisory Council to connect with local community leaders.
"It gives you a sense of confidence the PPB is there to communicate if there's any threats," Olol said.
In her second public appearance, a news conference Monday, Jan. 6, Resch briefly highlighted her priorities — transparency, fighting crime and tackling a bureau staffing shortage — and vowed to continue leading the Portland Police Bureau in the direction it was headed under her predecessor, Danielle Outlaw.
"I pledge to continue to support all of the great work that is already being done," Resch said in her first press conference since accepting the job, after Outlaw took the job of police chief of Philadelphia. "I plan to continue the commitment to ever-improving PPB and our relationships within the community. Now is the time to continue the momentum. It is not the time to remain status quo or veer in a different direction."
She was echoed by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who said the goal is "seamlessly continuing the great work that's already taking place within the Portland Police Bureau."
• Community relationships: Resch cited her past work with refugee and immigrant communities and said she intends to continue working to improve those and other community relationships.
While Outlaw was talented at making personal connections with people, "I would like to see some things change a little faster as far as our ability to build trust within the community with different groups and things like that," Resch said. "I think I might have the ability to do that."
• Gun violence: Resch cited the seven local shootings that took place early on New Year's Day — just days after local police managers publicly had called for help in combating a string of gang-related shootings.
Calling the shootings "unacceptable," she added, "These are not crimes that are solved in a minute. While there may not have been any arrests, yet, these cases take intense, thoughtful, coordinated approaches. And I have every confidence in every single one of our investigators investigating these cases."
• Transparency: Resch expressed full-throated support of equipping officers with body-worn cameras, saying it's just a matter of funding. "I think that is something that's fully supported by the officers and I think it's beneficial for the community as well. I would like to see them."
• Officer shortage: Resch expressed concern over staffing levels, saying the bureau is facing waves of new retirements that will worsen the situation. The bureau has about 900 sworn officers and about 100 openings. Due to expected retirements, the openings are expected to grow to well over 200 by February 2021, she said at a recent roll call.
• Protests: Portland's police have been stretched by protests in which brawling between demonstrators has become routine, and the city has spent millions on overtime.
Resch said she will continue Outlaw's focus on seeking help from other jurisdictions and agencies: "I think you will see that more and more where we're reaching out, we're not trying to do it on our own. We're trying to gather as much information as we can ahead of time and really establish whose responsibility is what. ... You'll see a more collaborative approach, including other city bureaus and other agencies."
• Morale: For years, the bureau has suffered from low morale, and some officers said they felt Outlaw, who rarely attended roll calls, was distant. Resch repeatedly expressed affection for her fellow police and struck a positive tone, repeatedly complimenting the police officers and members of the public she's worked with.
"The best part about this job, 100% hands-down, is the people, the people who work for the Police Bureau, the people I've got to meet, the friendships that I've made," she said. "You know, when everybody retires from the Police Bureau, that's what they miss the most. And I know that that's what I'll miss the most when I do leave, which is not going to be anytime soon."
Outlaw left after two years as chief. Resch noted she has five years until she qualifies for retirement.
"I have five years left here, and I would love to spend every last one of those standing right here in this position," she said.
A graduate of Beaverton High School, Resch attended the University of Portland and initially thought she would be a doctor.
On applying to be a police officer? "In all honesty, it was something that I did, almost to see if I could," she said Monday. "I had never been on a ride-along. I had never shot a gun. I'd never done anything related to police work, but when I applied and they hired me, and I started going through training, I loved it."
She was hired in 1999 and has worked all over the bureau. She made sergeant in 2008, lieutenant in 2012 and captain in 2016. Outlaw promoted her to assistant chief in May 2018 and then to deputy chief — Outlaw's then-second-in-command — on May 23, 2019.
In addition to having Wheeler's vote to be chief, the police unions representing line officers and managers have expressed their support for Resch.
Resch is known within the ranks for her "integrity and honor," said Bob Gorgone, a longtime cop who retired from the Portland Police Bureau last fall. "I've always known her to do a really good job balancing the needs of the agency with what our troops need, which is how she got to where she got. I always enjoyed working with her, because she did what she said she was going to do. I think she'll be good for the department."
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